Irreantum

A Review of Mormon Literature and Film
Volume 7, Number 2 (2005)

Spiritual Autobiography

$8.00

Spiritual Autobiography

Irreantum

A Review of Mormon Literature and Film

Volume 7, Number 2 (2005)

Irreantum Staff
General Editor  Laraine Wilkins
Fiction Editor  Sam Brown
Poetry Editor  Mark Brown
Readers Write Editor  David Pace
Personal Essay Editor  Angela Hallstrom
Book Review Editor  Jana Bouck Remy
Copyediting Team Manager  Beth Bentley
Copyediting Staff Colin Douglas

Liz Lyman




Sarah Maitland
Henry Miles
Alan Rex Mitchell
Vanessa Oler
Steven Opager
Design and Layout  Marny K. Parkin

Association for Mormon Letters Board
President  Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury
Board Members Mark Thomas

Kylee Turley

Giles Florence

Alan Rex Mitchell
Annual Proceedings Editor  Linda Hunter Adams
Webmaster  Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury
AML-List Moderator  R. W. Rasband
Irreantum General Editor  Laraine Wilkins
Irreantum (ISSN 1528-0594) is published three times a year by the Association for Mormon Letters (AML),
P.O. Box 1315, Salt Lake City, UT 84110-1315, www.irreantum.org. Irreantum volume 7, no. 2 (2005)
© 2005 by the Association for Mormon Letters. All rights reserved. Membership and subscription information can be found at the end of this isssue; single issues cost $8.00 (postpaid). Advertising rates begin
at $50 for a full page. The AML is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, so contributions of any amount are
tax deductible and gratefully accepted.
Views expressed in Irreantum do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or of AML board
members. This publication has no official connection with or endorsement by The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints. Irreantum is supported by a grant from the Utah Arts Council and the National
Endowment for the Arts, Washington, D.C. Irreantum is indexed in the Modern Language Association
International bibliography.

Contents
From the Editor

7

Special Feature
Life History Writing: Perspectives  Laura Bush, Boyd Petersen, and
Matthew K. Heiss 11
Personal Essays
Bicycle Blues  memoir excerpt by Phyllis Barber 35
One-Eighty  memoir excerpt by Christopher Kimball Bigelow 47
In the Presence of God: A Spiritual Autobiography  Cheryl Pace 71
Stone Pillows  Deja Earley 89
Milton Abbey  Kathryn Street Larson 95
Poetry
Conference Weekend; This Morning in This Rain  Brent Pace 27
Reading the Creation with Gutenberg;
All Saints Eve, a Year and a Half Later  Melanie Hinton 30
“Desert Night”  Amy Jensen 33
Dar al Luz  Mark Bennion 64
The Sound of Salvation  Brian Pew 67
Staying On; Certain Midnight Hours  Dixie Partridge 100
A Spider Teaches the Fall without a Recommend  Steven Peck 103
Departments
Readers Write: Spiritual Autobiography
105
From the Archives: “The Next Thing I Knew I Was One of Them”:
Oral Conversion Stories from BYU’s Charles Redd Center for
Western History
113
Book Reviews
133
Contributors 145

Irreantum
Volume 7, Number 2 (2005)
1 Nephi 17:5. And we beheld the sea, which we
called Irreantum, which, being interpreted, is many waters.

ear-ee-an’-tum:

Irreantum: A Review of Mormon Literature and Film is a ­refereed
journal, published three times annually (Fall, Winter, Spring/Summer) by
the Association for Mormon Letters.
We seek to define the parameters of Mormon literature broadly, acknowledging a growing body of diverse work that reflects the increasing diversity of
Mormon experience. We wish to publish the highest quality of writing, both
creative and critical. We welcome unsolicited submissions of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and plays that address the Mormon experience either directly
or by implication. We also welcome submissions of critical essays that address
such works, in addition to popular and nonprint media (such as film, folklore, theater, juvenile fiction, science fiction, letters, diaries, sermons). Critical
essays may also address Mormon literature in more general terms, especially
in its regional, ethnic, religious, thematic, and genre-related configurations.
We welcome letters or comments. We also seek submissions of photos
that can be printed in black and white. Please send letters and submissions
to submissions@irreantum.org. If you do not have access to email, mail your
text on a floppy disk or CD to Irreantum, c/o AML, PO Box 1315, Salt Lake
City, UT 84110-1315. Submissions on paper are discouraged.
Map facing the title page is from Herman Moll, geographer, Moll’s Maps:
Thirty Two New and Accurate Maps of the Geography of the Ancients, as contained in The Greek and Latin Classics (London: Tho. Bowles, 1732). Photos
from The Fruits of Their Labors: The Culture and Traditions of Orchards
in Utah Valley, An Introductory Field School for Cultural Documentation,
July 11–31, 2004, sponsored by the American Folklife Center, Library of
Congress, and Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, provided courtesy
of the William A. Wilson Folklore Archive, L.Tom Perry Special Collections,
Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
6

From the Editor
Spiritual autobiography is embedded in Mormon culture and identity
at every turn. Of the handful of texts I think of as foundational for
Mormonism, spiritual autobiography is embedded in the very narrative structures and rhetoric that church members use to understand
and articulate their own search for truth and connection to the divine. The
Joseph Smith story recounts in the first person events that led a young boy to
become a prophet and does so by delineating his personal history, beginning
at birth: “I was born in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and
five on the twenty-third day of December, in the town of Sharon, Windsor
county, State of Vermont . . . ” In the book Joseph Smith translated from
golden plates, the opening text reads “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly
parents . . . ” Church members are encouraged to write in journals on a
regular basis, in addition to penning their own life histories, as part of the
genealogical program to “redeem the dead.” And monthly testimony meetings encourage the Saints to bear personal testimony of gospel principles,
often told through first-person narratives about spiritual experiences.
Mormons did not invent spiritual autobiography as a genre, of course.
In fact, the nomenclature may seem a bit odd to church members when it
comes to understanding Mormon narrative tradition in the context of the
larger practice of writing the story of one’s spiritual journey. Who really
wants to believe that one’s conversion to Mormonism might have something
in common with stories recounted over a period of many centuries before
Joseph Smith’s first vision? Is not the experience of conversion unique to
each individual, or, at least, unique within Mormonism? Spiritual autobiography as a genre has been around for a long while. In the western tradition,
St. Augustine’s Confessions, written in AD 397 are generally considered the
baseline text for all subsequent spiritual autobiography. One encyclopedia
entry claims that “spiritual autobiography is a non-fictional form which
rose to prominence in seventeenth-century England.” But if one accepts the
claim that the Book of Mormon is a collection of texts written a thousand
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years before St. Augustine, and in certain sections even earlier than that,
then Joseph Smith brought forth a collection of narratives distinctly autobiographical in nature, compared to other commonly accepted scripture,
given the preponderance of texts narrated from a first-person perspective.
And if the Book of Mormon is a record of the spiritual history of a people,
rather than their political history, then Mormons have a model for testimony,
“another testament of Christ,” recounted by those who witnessed first-hand
the dealings of God with his children on the earth. Nephi’s mandate to “liken
all scriptures unto us” (1 Nephi 19:23), thus becomes particularly poignant,
given the personal storytelling enacted so frequently through the use of the
word “I” in the Book of Mormon.
And yet we can’t deny a certain commonality of “Mormon” spiritual
autobiography with the identified tradition. Joseph Smith inherited religious
sensibilities from his forebears, including his grandfather Solomon Mack,
who wrote a “highly readable spiritual autobiography” in chapbook form
(Mulder 157). Early church leader Parley P. Pratt wrote a lengthy autobiography, the style of which marks him as “a stepchild of the eighteenth century,”
as noted by R. A. Christmas (35). Other nineteenth-century autobiographical
works written by church members are still being mined for their historical,
as well as literary, value (think of the writings of Jane Manning James, used
as a source by Margaret Blair Young and Darius Gray for their Standing on
the Promises series of historical novels). The overwhelming number of spiritual autobiographies housed in the Church archives alone offers a bountiful
resource, and testifies to the grassroots nature of the call to write the story
of one’s own spiritual life. Such practice is grounded in the Protestant call to
account for one’s own life through introspection and a personal relationship
to God.
In the twentieth century and beyond, spiritual autobiographical forms
still emerge in the form of life histories for Mormons. But the increasingly
integrated nature of Mormon culture, with its attendant trend towards
more education and access to publishing venues has opened avenues for a
number of LDS church members to write more seriously, and with a larger
audience in mind. It remains to be seen whether we can make a list of the
most influential autobiographies written by Mormons. Those which have
received national press seem to fall under the category of “failed” spiritual
­autobiographies, where exposés of Mormon practices or stories of “escape”
predominate. These works have been around since the nineteenth century.
8

Wilkins  S  From the Editor

Those from the last few decades include Sonia Johnson’s From Housewife
to Heretic (1981), Deborah Laake’s Secret Ceremonies: A Mormon Woman’s
Intimate Diary of Marriage and Beyond (1993), and, more recently, Martha
Nibley Beck’s Leaving the Saints: How I Left the Mormons and Found My
Faith (2005).
It might be more apt to call autobiographical works recounting a spiritual
journey away from the faith “autobiography” than “spiritual autobiography.”
But in a sense, Mormon first-person narratives are always a form of spiritual
autobiography, given the degree to which religious activity permeates members’ lives. Any Mormon writing autobiographically, I would argue, must
grapple with questions of faith, if anything authentic is to emerge. Perhaps
the distinction can be made between “religion” and “spirituality.” For lifelong
members, religion is given. But for anyone, inside or outside the church,
legacy or new members, spirituality must be acknowledged, whether such
acknowledgment takes the form of seeking or receiving. Its expression in
narrative terms may draw from a common vocabulary and thematic lexicon,
either derived from Mormonism or from the larger religious community, but
the details are personal, echoing Joseph Smith’s own declaration to his father
after the first vision, “I have learned for myself . . . ”
Overall, the personal essays included here are somewhat darker than I
anticipated. But they are honest and reveal a powerful introspective urge
to consider both the highs and lows on the soul-searching path toward the
divine. Some of the essays do not reveal such struggle, but rather express
insight gained in quiet moments and through everyday lived experience. The
pieces in this issue offer a wonderful kaleidoscopic perspective on life in and
with Mormonism. The short critical pieces at the beginning likewise offer
various frameworks from which to understand the genre of spiritual autobiography in a Mormon context. I am particularly fond of the “From the
Archives” section in this issue, because it offers up the stories of plain-spoken
folk who found their way to Mormonism through missionaries. These are the
stories I am hungry to hear when I am in church, the stories that inspire me
to find my own truth amidst the clamor of religious excitement.
For those of us who look for the appearance of the great Mormon novel,
it may be that our search is misplaced when we look to fiction. As Laura
Bush notes in her piece on women’s spiritual autobiography in this issue,
perhaps we should be looking for the great spiritual autobiography. David
Leigh names the ten spiritual autobiographies of the twentieth century with
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“close to canonical status” (226), and I list them here so that readers may
have ideas for where to draw inspiration from some of the great spiritual
­leaders of recent times: Mohandas Gandhi’s An Autobiography: The Story
of My Experiments with Truth (1929), Black Elk’s Black Elk Speaks (1932),
Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain (1949), Dorothy Day’s The Long
Loneliness (1954), C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy (1955), Nikos Kazantzakis’s
Report to Greco (1961), Malcolm X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965),
Paul Cowan’s An Orphan in History (1982), Rigoberta Menchu’s I, Rigoberta
Menchu (1983), and Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom (1994). Some of
these works I have read, others are written by leaders I have heard of, and
still others are written by people whose names are completely new to me.
I relish the opportunity to read the works that are new to me. But this list
is not complete for me without the Joseph Smith History and the Book
of Mormon, not to mention the life histories written by my grandparents.
Our Mormon texts, as a variation on the form of spiritual autobiography,
can only enrich our reading and open doors for the kind of writing we welcome in the pages of Irreantum.
Laraine Wilkins

Works Cited
Christmas, R. A. “The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt—Some Literary, Historical,
and Critical Reflections.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 1: 1 (Spring
1966), 33–43.
Leigh, David. “Reading Modern Religious Autobiographies: Multidimensional and
Multicultural Approaches.” In Seeing Into the Life of Things: Essays on Religion
and Literature. Ed. John L. Mahoney. New York: Fordham University Press, 1998.
226–41.
Mulder, William. “Telling It Slant—Aiming for Truth in Contemporary Mormon
Literature.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 26: 2 (Summer 1993), 155–69.
Seeing into the Life of Things: Essays on Religion and Literature. Ed. John L. Mahoney.
New York: Fordham University Press, 1998.

10

Special Feature
Life History Writing: Perspectives
contributions by Laura Bush, Boyd Petersen, and
Matthew K. Heiss
The practice of record-keeping among Latter-day Saints began
from the day the church was first organized. According to the
diary of Willard Richards, the substantial bulk of church records
were carried in the first migration of Saints across the prairie from Nauvoo
to the Great Salt Lake Valley, at some supposed. In an entry from 1846 May
29, Mt. Pisgah Iowa, Richards’ diary notes the considerable weight of these
records: “‘Bro. Joseph Horns team—Henry Fairbanks driver, received of
Willard Richards to carry on the journey over the mountains 1 Box records
381 [lbs.] 1 Box records 205 [lbs.].’ Fairbanks took the record to Winter
Quarters from which place Thomas Bullock transported them to the Great
Salt Lake Valley” (in Jessee 469). The transport of this bulk of records during
a journey from one land to another takes on almost archetypal significance
when one considers the pattern of record-keeping that emerges in the Book
of Mormon, indeed, even to the point where Nephi would be prompted to
kill in order to obtain a written record of his people.
Admonition from prophets and general authorities of the church to write
a life history abounds. In 1849 Orson Pratt wrote: “We should keep a record
because it will furnish many important items for the general history of the
Church which would otherwise be lost. . . . The plain simple facts should be
given, not from hearsay or from report, but from actual knowledge” (Searle
59). A two-fold, and somewhat contradictory, notion of the nature of church
record-keeping emerges in this passage. The emphasis on “plain simple facts”
suggests a practice of objectivity, much related to history rather than storytelling. But the emphasis on “actual knowledge” rather than “hearsay or from
report” points to the personal nature of writing, where narrative can emerge,
opening up to a practice akin to literature.
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It is perhaps no great wonder, then, that life history writing is a common
practice among Latter-day Saints. Some might consider this practice a personal hobby that grows out of the long-standing tradition of record-keeping
in the Church. But for most church members, it is a mandate. Tied to the
directive to “redeem the dead,” life history writing for Mormons is a part of
family record keeping intended for posterity. Without this mandate, many
members might consider the sum of their lives to be too modest to be of note.
But, as Andrew Jenson expressed in 1917 in a conference talk, the writing of
one’s story is imperative:
I suggest to you all, brethren and sisters, that you be not afraid or be too modest to make records of your own. . . . Remember the old saying, “that what you
do yourselves is sure, but what you trust to others may prove disappointing”;
. . . If you cannot keep a daily journal, . . . before going to the great beyond
write down some of the experiences you have had in your life with good ink
and on good paper, that it may be left for your posterity. This will serve a better purpose to perpetuate your memory than a costly stone monument, and
by doing this it may be said of you, as was said of Abel of old, “though dead,
he yet speaketh.” (90)

Jenson’s admonition to his fellow Saints points to a number of ideas that
seem in keeping with a Mormon value system, namely that of personal
accountability, responsibility, and self-sufficiency; the concern for family
through generations; and the desire to attain immortality.
Indeed, in the actual practice of life history writing, one might expect
these themes common to a Mormon ethos to emerge. In the preamble to his
self-titled autobiography,” Alma Ash touches upon all of these themes, with
a particular emphasis on the salutary effects of writing:
This day, November 17, 1900, I commence to write an account of my life
from my earliest recollection, and also to give a short history of my Fathers
and grandfathers as far as will be instructive to my posterity; who shall be
interested enough in their ancestors to know something of them. It is not my
intention to write anything and everything in this History but only to tell of
such things as will be of some good, and worth recording. I have observed
that a great many men have attempted to write their life and in doing so
have inserted in it many things of no worth, and have soon tired of keeping
up their Journal account of important matter, because of the monotony of
­writing things of no importance. Others have thought they were duty bound,
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Special Feature  S  Life History Writing: Perspectives
in order to be consistent, to record all the mistakes and follies of their lives and
therefore have neglected keeping a journal on this account.
I shall therefore, forbear writing up such things as are of no consequence,
as I view them, and also refrain from making these matters to be judged and
weighed by our Father in Heaven who will not judge after the manner of men,
but who will consider all the circumstances, motives and environments which
lead the children of men to commit sins and follies. Suffice it to say that my
life has been a great deal like other lives, full of mistakes and foolishnesses,
some great and some small. Sufficient to cause me much discomfort and sorrow at times, and which have lead me at times to call upon God for help and
support and cry aloud for strength to overcome. (“Autobiography of Alma
Ash,” 1900, Typescript, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints. Alma Ash is Steven R. Sorensen’s great-grandfather.)

Can we be reminded, then, of Eugene England’s mandate to himself? “I write
to save my soul.”
The intersection of life history writing with literary concerns is explored
from various perspectives by the contributors to this special feature. Laura L.
Bush, whose recently published book Faithful Transgressions in the American
West: Six Twentieth-Century Mormon Women’s Autobiographical Acts (2004)
has gained widespread attention both in and outside of LDS communities,
addresses common patterns in autobiographical writings among Mormons.
In looking at transgressive patterns in women’s writing, in particular, she
finds a way to situate what some would consider anti-Mormon life narratives within a Mormon framework. Boyd J. Petersen, author of Hugh Nibley:
A Consecrated Life (2001), looks at autobiographical writing in the form of letters, a form commonly associated with journals and diaries. Nibley’s modesty
over writing a life history notwithstanding, his penchant for writing led him
to produce letters that, taken as a whole, portray a man whose love for nature
was as strong as his love for the Lord’s work. In a talk given by church archivist Matthew K. Heiss at BYU, a connection between the writing of church
history and personal history comes to the fore. With the growing complexity
of the church system and members’ experiences in an international context,
Heiss suggests that church history should be written by local members for
their local communities. Church history is no longer the sole purview of
historians; church history comes from individuals writing their own stories.
No two people will have exactly the same reasons for writing a life history.
But for Mormons, the call to write has left a grand legacy of texts that can
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take on a greater significance than any single writer may ever hope to attain.
Let us hope this legacy will continue.

—Laraine Wilkins

The Field of Mormon Life Writing:
Ripe and Ready to Harvest
Laura L. Bush
Latter-day Saints generally relate their life stories within a context of communal religious experience that situates their personal narratives well within
a tradition of American spiritual autobiography inherited directly from the
Puritans and Quakers. My critical project in Faithful Transgressions in the
American West: Six Twentieth-Century Mormon Women’s Autobiographical Acts
(2004) encourages the examination of Mormon autobiography within this
established tradition of American spiritual autobiography. However, I also
seek to encourage the exploration of Mormon life narratives as comprising a distinct literary genre that grows directly out of Mormon history and
doctrine. In brief, I argue that autobiographical writing has been the literary
genre most often undertaken by Latter-day Saint writers of all persuasions
precisely because of Mormons’ gospel-based commitment to public and
personal record keeping. This means that, for me, and I hope many other
scholars, instead of bemoaning the supposed lack of Latter-day literary
genius, or pining for the “great” Mormon novel, it’s time to engage in further
productive critiques concerning the significant writing tradition that already
exists within the Mormon canon of literature. In other words, well-crafted,
engaging, and rhetorically purposeful life narratives written by such notable
writers as Juanita Brooks, Terry Tempest Williams, Phyllis Barber, and now,
Martha Beck, among others, deserve sustained scholarly attention inside and
outside Mormon literary circles.
Like other autobiographical writing traditions in the Americas—the
slave narrative, captivity narrative, or testimonial, for example—a traditional Latter-day Saint autobiography follows particular patterns in purpose,
form, and content. In Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life
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Special Feature  S  Life History Writing: Perspectives

Narratives, Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, leading scholars in the field of
women’s lifewriting, demonstrate that storytelling is the means by which
“we retrospectively make experience and convey a sense of it to others.” They
and others in autobiography studies demonstrate that “as we tell our stories
discursive patterns guide, or compel, us to tell stories about ourselves in particular ways” (26). Linda Rugg, also a scholar of autobiography and visiting
professor of philosophy at Brigham Young University in 1996, offered a preliminary sketch of the particular ways that traditional Mormon life narratives
are developed. As a nonmember professor teaching a course in autobiography
at BYU, she was surprised to discover “striking similarities” and a kind of
formulaic pattern among her LDS students’ life writing. Rugg observes,
Almost all of the writers focused on their religious experience as the central
motif in their lives. Further, that religious experience was defined in much the
same terms from student to student: childhood instruction in religion from
parents and family, missionary experience (which often denoted a kind of
conversion to true, personally held faith), and the foundation (or the planned
foundation) of a family within the Church. (15)

Although teaching at a private religious institution, Rugg had still been
surprised to learn that her students were accustomed to journal writing and
to bearing witness—that they wrote more in the tradition of St. Augustine
than Nietzsche. She admits, “I did not know that they were in the habit of
making confessions” (16). In Davis Bitton’s 1977 Guide to Mormon Diaries
and Autobiographies—the first annotated bibliographic record of thousands
of published and unpublished life writings preserved up to 1973 in numerous
libraries across the United States—he, too, recognizes patterns in Mormon
life writing, describing the standard Mormon “missionary diary,” the largest
single category of Mormon diaries his research team indexed. According to
Bitton, the following characteristics are common in such diaries: mission call,
preparation, and farewells; trip; companions; proselytizing members; contact
with home; sightseeing; release; and return trip (viii–ix).
From my own reading and study of life writing by Latter-day Saints, five
writing conventions have become apparent. First, Mormon autobiographers
witness and testify of God and the “truth” of their personal and historical
experience as Latter-day Saints. Second, they frequently explain various
Mormon doctrines and establish their authority to do so. Third, they work
to document Mormons’ collective history and cultural heritage. Fourth, to
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one degree or another, they often feel compelled to defend their religion or
membership in the Church. And fifth, they frequently write their life stories
for both member and nonmember readers, anticipating the possibility of
reaching a broad audience inside and outside their Mormon community. In
addition to these conventions in Mormon autobiographical writing, however,
are what I term the “faithful transgressions” that exist to varying degrees of
“faith” or “transgression,” especially in the writing of Mormon women. By
faithfulness, I mean an autobiographer’s degree of continuing commitment
to her Latter-day Saint belief system, but also, and perhaps more importantly
for literary critics, her degree of “faithful” adherence in form and content to
the writing conventions of Mormon life narratives. With regard to belief, I
use the phrase “faithful transgression” to describe moments in the texts when
each writer, explicitly or implicitly, commits herself in writing to trust her
own ideas and authority over official religious authority while also conceiving
of and depicting herself to be a “faithful” member of the Church. Recently,
however, I’ve been revisiting my own terminology, asking whether it would
be able to encompass the autobiographical writing of more “transgressive”
Mormon life narratives than I included with my initial use of the oxymoron
“faithful transgression.” I believe it can.
To illustrate, while the title and content of Martha Beck’s autobiography,
Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith, clearly
announces her departure from anything like faithful adherence to LDS
belief, as an autobiographer, she nevertheless faithfully follows many conventions of Mormon life writing patterns, including a persistent focus on the
“truth” of her personal and historical experience; her establishment of the
credibility and authority to explain her family’s as well as Mormons’ history
and doctrines (tithing, fasting, word of wisdom, temple ceremonies, LDS
terminology, etc.); and her clear anticipation of a broad audience of both
member and nonmember readers. Given these commonalities with other
Mormon autobiographers, the aspect of Beck’s writing that distinguishes her
most from, for example, the faithful transgressions of loyal dissenter Juanita
Brooks, is that rather than defend Mormonism to outsiders, Beck documents
the intolerableness of active participation in her former faith community.
Furthermore, one of her writing purposes is to critique the Church and her
father, Hugh Nibley (ironically one of the Church’s best known apologists),
while simultaneously needing to defend herself against anticipated attacks
by Mormons.
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Special Feature  S  Life History Writing: Perspectives

Although Beck’s book demonstrates faithful adherence to Mormon life writing conventions, within the tradition of Mormon women’s a­ utobiographical
writing, her work is obviously more transgressive than faithful. Derived
from the Latin trans, meaning “across,” and gradi, meaning “to step,” the
term transgression describes an act that goes “beyond a limit or boundary.”
The intense dialogue and writing campaign waged against Beck’s book even
before it was published provides clear indications that significant numbers
of Mormons believed even prior to reading the book (if they ever do) that
it crossed boundaries. Transgression may also be defined as “a sin” or an act
that “violates some law.” Within the context of my own analysis and thinking, I use the term transgression more to mean “boundary crossing” than “sin.”
But from an orthodox perspective, many Mormon women writers’ “transgressions”—especially those committed by self-proclaimed rebels and apostates such as Martha Beck or Deborah Laake in Secret Ceremonies—could be
viewed as sinful or damaging acts, both to themselves and to their Mormon
community. Regardless, transgressive life writing occurs when a Mormon
woman writer trusts her individual conscience and expresses ideas or beliefs
that resonate within her as being right and true, but which she knows implicitly or explicitly violate rules of Mormon doctrine or cultural norms within
her faith community.
By examining Mormon autobiographers’ central themes, evidence, audiences, and rhetorical style or ethos, as well as the particular areas of dispute
where these writers commit themselves to value and valorize their own personal experience and position over official religious authority, I and other
literary critics can uncover significant personal, cultural, and literary tensions
manifested within Mormon experience and culture. As a feminist literary
critic, I encourage further interest in determining how Mormon women
writing their life stories in a Victorian-minded religion with a male governing
body has affected the way they construct their rhetorical and literary position
in Mormon and non-Mormon society. Within the patriarchal organization
of the LDS Church, life writing has always been an ecclesiastically authorized
venue to express personal views on numerous topics. I invite more literary
critics to join in the discussion about Mormon life writing and literary accomplishments. The field is ripe and ready to harvest.

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“Endless Vistas of Joy and Excitement”:
Hugh Nibley’s Correspondence as Spiritual Autobiography
Boyd Petersen
As an observer of much of the twentieth century, a participant in D-Day
and Operation Market-Garden in World War II, and one of the major
intellectual luminaries of the LDS Church from the end of the war until
his death this year, Hugh Nibley led an extraordinary life. Yet he was never
convinced that his life story was worth telling. He did write an “Intellectual
Autobiography” for the preface to the 1978 collection Nibley on the Timely
and the Timeless,1 but that work was short and, as the title suggests, focused
on his development as a scholar. He would often sprinkle anecdotal remembrances throughout his lectures. Yet his response to efforts to narrate some of
his life’s experiences in the 1985 documentary Faith of an Observer was typical: “I can’t imagine anything exciting or edifying in the life and times (and
even less in the works) of an uncomplicated Beach Boy.”2 I pestered Hugh
for years to write his memoirs, but he constantly deferred, finally telling me,
“I’m not going to do it, but I’ll let you do it.” And so began in earnest my
effort to chronicle Hugh Nibley’s remarkable life.3
What Hugh did not realize, however, is that he had produced a wonderful
chronicle of his life dating from his childhood in the collection of personal
letters scattered among many libraries, his office, and his house. I discovered
in these letters much of his life story, his beliefs, and his faith—and all written with eloquence and wit. Remarkably, that his wit and eloquence is evident in some of the earliest letters I’ve discovered. In a letter Hugh wrote at
age eleven to his grandfather, he mentioned his growing interest in sketching
and added, “Drawing is like learning to play the violin. The more you know,
the less you think you know. I am positive I know an awful lot.”4 The lyrical
quality of his writing is evident in a letter Hugh wrote at age fifteen from the
banks of the Feather River in Cromberg, California where he was working at
the Nibley-Stoddard Lumber Company:
Dear Mother:
What’s all this business of coming home? Let me live in Paradise while it
lasts. I climbed Jackson Peak Sunday, and when I looked around I saw not
the great gray-green expanse of forest I had expected, but hundreds of miles of
rocks and stubble broken here and there by well thinned plains of dry pines.
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Special Feature  S  Life History Writing: Perspectives
This would have been most disappointing had it not been for the presence of
one great patch of woods. What a heaven it was to look down onto the blue
tops of those great cool firs and know that there in her last stronghold lives
Nature with all her great family, for to this citadel have flocked all the hosts of
the forest. Here in this cold, green temple, oozing and dripping with a licentious profusity of life, I felt as if I were a trillion years old. Nothing seemed
strange or unusual. Badgers, coons, deer, skunks, porcupines, snakes and all
only paid me a passing glance, and went on with their business. . . . . This is
the only unlogged tract within half a hundred miles of here—five hundred
million feet of it—and owned, “the devil damn it black” (Shakespeare) by the
Nibley-Stoddard Lumber Co. Soon it will be leveled to a dessert—the streams
will dry up and leave it to the sun, the sage brush, the snakes and the lizards.5

Certainly this letter suffers from the same kind of literary over-kill that I find
in the writing of many of my freshmen honors students, but my freshmen
are eighteen and nineteen. It is easy to forgive such shortcomings in a fifteenyear-old. This letter is also an early example of a strain that runs throughout
Hugh’s correspondence: nature as the muse for Hugh’s lyrical prose. For
example, in a letter he wrote in the late 1950s, at a time in his life when he
was over-worked and emotionally drained from dealing with his ailing, aged
parents, Hugh describes his wanderings in the “in the severest of the Sevier
desert, a perfectly desolate waste of reddish-brown sand and huge volcanic
blocks”:
It was indescribably restful. How natural and easy death seems in the quiet
anonymity of the dunes! The dry sand drifts with a soft hissing sound in a
gentle wind; the bones that lie around beautifully cleaned and polished elicit
no pity or remorse, for nothing has any particular identity and everything
seems at rest; there is a relaxation and a rightness about everything—after
a few hours of sitting or walking about in a perfect emptiness of sand and
air one imperceptibly relaxes and begins to soak up certain basic realizations
which in any other setting would not be accepted without a struggle. The first
is that my being here or not being here doesn’t make the slightest difference
to anything, one way or the other. The neat white vertebra you kick with your
toe might be that of a lame sheep, a coyote, or Alexander the Great–it doesn’t
make the slightest bit of difference, one is no better than the other as far as this
world is concerned. For me this was escape pure and simple, but I came back
another day greatly refreshed, having seen some marvelous country that I had
never dreamed existed—less than a hundred miles from home.6
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After reading letter after letter where Hugh describes the natural world
with this kind of poetic sensitivity, I am convinced that he very easily could
have been a nature writer on a par with Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard,
Aldo Leopold, or John Muir.7 In fact, while stationed in the lush beauty
of Clearwater, Florida during Army basic training, Hugh worried that “if
I stayed here any longer I would turn into a naturalist—which I consider
disastrous in view of the superior instruments of knowledge offered as I
firmly maintain by both the written documents and the mathematical skills
of the race.”8
Much of his correspondence reflects a cynicism about world events typical
of what we find in his social criticism. In a haunting letter he wrote to his
grandmother in 1938, Hugh sized up the spiritual state of the world:
And so the world goes down into a time of troubles which is but the reflection
of its own love of darkness. All of which we have been taught, but have not
learned, to expect for a hundred years. If there is any subject for tears [. . .] it
is those successful ones among us who have found their heaven in rewards of
a base conformity, who seek their strength and solace in the buying power of
fellows like themselves, whose possessions alone justify them in all things and
whose property is their whole sanctification and authority. These will not have
to wait to a hereafter to learn their folly; we are soon to see them giving their
lives (and especially where they can, other people’s lives) to save their treasures,
which for all that will vanish like smoke.9

His letters from the European war front during World War II are marked
by a distinct cynicism about warfare. A letter written in December 1944 to
a fellow intelligence officer is typical: “The whole world today is paying the
price of a few careers. I have never objected to being the simple-minded
implement of other men’s greatness, but one can hardly submit to that without becoming the foil of their spite; for when the mighty fight, the mighty
clash by proxy. We are the humble abrasive that polishes their armor.”10
Despite the gloom of such musings, Hugh maintained a healthy optimism
that is reflected in his thoughts about faith, perhaps the only theme in his
correspondence to inspire a greater lyrical quality than nature. In a letter he
wrote to his son, Charles Alex, he employs images from nature to describe
that deeply personal faith:
How can one express the surge of emotion that comes out of the earth and
swoops down from the sky whenever the plan of life and salvation and all that

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Special Feature  S  Life History Writing: Perspectives
it implies—the endless vistas of joy and excitement, of an expanding spirit
and ever-widening identity—is suddenly brought to one’s awareness as if from
some forgotten adventure in the bosom of time? To me it happens three or
four times a day, and then I can say with Brigham Young, I feel that my bones
will consume within me if I don’t do something about it.11

It is precisely this “surge of emotion,” well-contained in Hugh Nibley’s published work, which escapes so eloquently in his correspondence. Only there
did he feel free to compose the spiritual autobiography he never thought
worth writing.

The Relevance of Church History
Matthew K. Heiss
This talk was given at Brigham Young University as an introduction to a speech
given by Elder Emmanuel A. Kissi, Area Authority Seventy from Accra, Ghana,
who just published a book about the establishment of the Church in Ghana titled
Walking in the Sand.
I’d like to talk about Church history for just a few minutes. Let me begin
with a few questions that we struggle with in the Church Archives.
How relevant is Church history in the lives of Latter-day Saints? Is it more
or less relevant the further away from the Wasatch Front a person goes? Is
Church history’s relevance dependent on how long a person has been a member of the Church or on one’s ancestry?
These are some of the critical issues we are trying to understand at the
Church Archives.
Having studied history in college and then being hired right out of
graduate school to work in the Church Archives, I had a “built-in” sense
of history’s importance. But as I have traveled to some of the more remote
places in the international Church, I’ve learned that most first-generation
Latter-day Saints know who Joseph Smith was. They know the basics of his
history. Many have read or heard about Brigham Young and the exodus west,
but know very little about anything between Brigham Young in 1847 and
Gordon B. Hinckley. They also know little about the history of the Church
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in their own nations. So many of the issues that get a lot of research and
writing attention, such as handcarts crossing the plains, Mountain Meadows
Massacre, Utah’s statehood, polygamy, etc. are pretty much irrelevant to
many of our international brothers and sisters, who are simply trying to figure out how to conduct a sacrament meeting, fill out a Perpetual Education
Fund application, or get the entire family to the temple. Simply put, it seems
to me that many international first-generation Church members are just
­trying to figure out how to be Latter-day Saints.
And yet, these Latter-day Saints’ experiences are just as much a part of
Church history as anything that happened in the nineteenth century or is
happening now in the Church Office Building or here on this campus. But
who is going to tell their story?
Let me tell you about an experience I had seven years ago during my first
trip to Ghana, which, I hope, holds the answer to the questions I posed.
But first let me give you a bit of background before the Ghana story: I
began working in Church Archives Collection Development in 1988. At that
time, there were three of us trying to document the history of this rapidly
growing worldwide Church. One archivist spoke Spanish, so he took responsibility for all of Latin America. My other co-worker was wrapped up in a
British Isles project. And because there was an older couple in my ward who
had just returned from serving a mission in Nigeria, I took all of Africa.
I began to collect records and record interviews with missionary couples
and mission presidents who had served in Africa. Whenever I heard about
the Church in Ghana, inevitably I would hear the name Emmanuel Kissi.
When I researched what few Church records we had in the Archives relating
to Ghana, I found references to Dr. Kissi. Finally, ten years after I began to
document Church history in Ghana, on 16 September 1998, while in Ghana’s
capital Accra, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and interview the
man himself.
During that interview, Dr. Kissi told me about his brother, Stephen Abu,
who lived in Abomosu, a rural town in the Eastern Region of Ghana. Dr.
Kissi said his brother had just been released as district president after several
years of service. In his final speech, President Abu recounted some of the history he had experienced in Abomosu. Being a collection development archivist, I asked if it was possible to get a copy of this talk. I told Dr. Kissi that
in the Church Archives we had very little African Church history written by
Africans and that such a talk would be a valuable addition to the Archives
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Special Feature  S  Life History Writing: Perspectives

Africa collection. Dr. Kissi said he would talk to his brother and get me a
copy of that history.
Well, I’m still waiting for a copy of that talk. Dr. Kissi did not fulfill his
promise to me. Instead, he wrote a book about the history of the Church in
all of Ghana, not just in Abomosu. The book is titled Walking in the Sand, a
Ghanaian term signifying that all is well. Actually, Stephen Abu’s history is
contained in Chapter 6 and is a fascinating story of anti-Mormon persecution, endurance, and eventual triumph through faith.
Through all of this, Elder Kissi taught me an important lesson and has
taken me a step closer to getting the answers to those hard questions I posed
at the beginning of this talk: Church history needs to be written by and for
local Latter-day Saints.
At the inaugural conference of the Mormon Pacific Historical Society,
Church Historian Leonard Arrington said, “As the Church becomes more
international, it will become increasingly important to write the history of
the Latter-day Saints in their homelands. By reconstructing these people’s
lives, we give their heirs a sense of their LDS heritage as well as provide
real models for their own lives, models with whom they can identify”
(Arrington 1).
I believe Leonard Arrington was talking about the Spirit of Elijah. I grew
up thinking that the Spirit of Elijah was exclusively about genealogical
research that made temple ordinances available to the dead. And, of course,
that is implied in the scripture about turning the hearts of the children to
the fathers. But what about turning the hearts of the fathers to the children?
Could this be a call for personal, family, and local Church history focusing
on “the great things the Lord hath done” for each of us? (Book of Mormon
foreword). I believe it is. I am coming to believe that family history and
Church history are two sides of the same coin.
In a talk given here at BYU, President Hinckley said the same thing, but
used a different metaphor. Instead of talking about a coin, he talked about
a chain. He shared an experience he had at the dedication of the Columbus
Ohio Temple.
As he sat in the Celestial Room, he began to think about his ancestors.
He started with his great-grandfather, the first Hinckley to join the Church
back in the Kirtland era. He then thought about his grandfather, who was
­baptized in Nauvoo and who crossed the plains to Utah. This same grandfather, Ira Nathaniel Hinckley, built Cove Fort and was the president of the
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Millard Stake. Finally, he thought about his father, who eventually became
president of the largest stake in the Church, with more than 15,000 m
­ embers.
While thinking of these three men, President Hinckley looked down at
his daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter, and he suddenly realized that he stood right in the middle of these seven generations. President
Hinckley said:
In that sacred and hallowed house there passed through my mind a sense of
the tremendous obligation that was mine to pass on all that I had received
as an inheritance from my forebears to the generations who have now come
after me.
As I sat in the celestial room of the temple pondering these things, I said
to myself, “Never permit yourself to become a weak link in the chain of your
generations.” It is so important that we pass on without a blemish our inheritance of body and brain and, if you please, faith and virtue untarnished to the
generations who will come after us.

How is this accomplished? How do we pass on this spiritual inheritance?
Certainly one way is by writing and preserving our histories. Nephi had a
sense of this as he wrote his history. In 2 Nephi he wrote, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in
Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we
are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).
I have come to believe that the history of the Church is like a huge mosaic.
Each member’s personal history is like a tile in that mosaic. And the more
tiles we can collect and preserve, the more clear the picture becomes.
In April 1980 General Conference, Spencer W. Kimball said, “The history
of the Church is essentially the history of its individual members. One of
the best ways to celebrate righteous history is to make more of it, make more
righteous history!”
If Church history is not relevant to Latter-day Saints, it may be because
they feel no personal connection to it. Our challenge is to encourage Church
members throughout the world to record their experiences as Latter-day
Saints and preserve that righteous history for posterity and for the Church
as a whole.
I believe Elder Kissi has done just this by writing a history of the Church
in Ghana. This book has just been published in Ghana, thanks to the generosity of the current mission president. It will be interesting to see what
impact this has on the lives of the Latter-day Saints in Ghana.
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Special Feature  S  Life History Writing: Perspectives
Works Cited—Introduction
Jessee, Dean C. “The Writing of Joseph Smith’s History,” BYU Studies 11 (Summer
1971).
Howard C. Searle, “Early Mormon Historiography: Writing the History of the
Mormons, 1830–1858” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1979).
Jenson, Andrew. Conference Report, October 1917.
Works Cited—Bush, “Field of Mormon Life Writing”
Beck, Martha. Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith. New
York: Crown Publishers, 2005.
Bitton, Davis. Guide to Mormon Diaries and Autobiographies. Provo: Brigham Young
University Press, 1977.
Brooks, Juanita. Quicksand and Cactus: A Memoir of the Southern Mormon Frontier.
Logan: Utah State University Press, 1992.
Bush, Laura L. Faithful Transgressions in the American West: Six Twentieth-Century
Mormon Women’s Autobiographical Acts. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2004.
Laake, Deborah. Secret Ceremonies: A Mormon Woman’s Intimate Diary of Marriage
and Beyond. New York: Dell, 1993.
Rugg, Linda. “Teaching Confessions to Saints: A Non-LDS Professor and Her LDS
Students.” Sunstone (Dec. 1995): 13–17.
Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting
Life Narratives. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.
Notes—Petersen, “Hugh Nibley’s Correspondence”
1. “An Intellectual Autobiography,” Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless: Classic
Essays of Hugh Nibley (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1978), p. xix–xxviii.
2. Hugh Nibley, Letter to Paul Springer, 3 January 1983.
3. See Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life (Salt Lake: Kofford Books, 2002).
4. Hugh Nibley, Letter to Charles W. Nibley, 30 June 1921, Charles W. Nibley
Collection, Family Correspondence, Church Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.
5. Hugh Nibley, Letter to Agnes Sloan Nibley, 4 August 1925. Charles W. Nibley
Collection, ms. 1523, box 1, fd. 1, L.Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee
Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
6. Hugh Nibley, Letter to Paul Springer, n.d., ca. 1957.
7. It is for this reason that I find great significance in the fact that Wendell Berry,
a man whose social commentary I find to most resemble Hugh’s, quoted Hugh in
his book What Are People For (San Francisco: Northpoint, 1990), 99.
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8. Hugh Nibley, Letter to Agnes Sloan Nibley, 11 December 1942.
9. Hugh Nibley, Letter to Margaret Violet Reid Sloan, 4 October 1938.
10. Letter to Lucien Goldschmidt, 8 Dec. 1944.
11. Hugh Nibley, Letter to Charles Alexander Nibley, n.d., ca. 1980.

Works Cited—Heiss, “Relevance of Church History”
Arrington, Leonard. “On Writing Latter-day Saint History,” in Voyages of Faith:
Explorations in Mormon Pacific History, ed. Grant Underwood. Provo: Brigham
Young University Press, 2000.
Hinckley, Gordon B. “Keep the Chain Unbroken.” devotional address delivered on
30 November 1999 in the Marriott Center.
Kimball, Spencer W. “No Unhallowed Hand Can Stop the Work.” April 1980
General Conference.
Voyages of Faith: Explorations in Mormon Pacific History, ed. Grant Underwood.
Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2000.

26

Brent Pace

Conference Weekend
In my father’s basement, I learned the long and short of it. And on the
conference weekends twice each year
I hid away
hoping he’d believe me when I promised
I’d listen to the brethren’s talks
on our clock radio. Alone.
Boredom often took me to the bathroom
to play in the incomplete eternity of my sisters’ three-way mirror.
I hoped to catch a glimpse of how I might look to others.
How many times I tried to glance, nonchalant, at my left side:
the Carmen profile. Or at the back of my head,
at my ears that stuck out beyond my missionary haircut
to see myself the way a gentile might.
Obsessively latent. Accidentally handsome.
A bathroom Beauty Queen.
This morning, I look for you. I find a letter
reminding both of us the time changed in the night
sometime between that hour when you fell asleep
and that foggy moment when I came to join you
and Aloysius lying upside down and to the south.

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It’s conference weekend once again in Zion and I glance
casually onto the blank screen,
to catch a glimpse of my sudden middle age
the way a stranger might see me from afar. My head turned
like David.
From so close to Temple Square,
I can almost hear the prophet speaking from his pulpit
before it’s drowned out by the clamor of browning petals
dropping to the ground
just beyond the window.

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Pace  S  Two poems

This Morning in This Rain
It was very much that way, this night, the roads wet near the rails,
the rails shuttling light in a line up to the gravel pit to the north.
(As if I’d ever drive that far alone, up against the stacks, past the eternal
flame of wealthy Mormon oil refinement.) But its funny how I
forget your face tonight just moments after you have gone—
I forgot to say goodnight. Forgot to say to say hello to Danny.
And you hate the scrubs they make you wear, the thin
blue cotton, especially on a night like this. You say it will rain again
before we see the full budding moon above Olympus. You know
by the way it hurts to bend your wrist. I wonder how you’ll ever
pound against the tiny rows of ribs that barely cover up your kids’
sticky, tired lungs. I hear you once again remind me that
these kids are sick in a different way than I think, “It’s because
they can’t breathe out.”
I somehow know which path
you’ll take across the rail yard in the absence of a passing train,
the way you’ll exit from the freeway in the dark. I hear the sound
the car makes with the rearview mirror broken—that sweet, shy whistle
like a hiss of a from a toothless Alzheimer patient. While you are gone,
I’ll reach to scratch your shoulder, wish I could press my elbow hard into
your bad spot just beneath your shoulder—but not too near the spine.
And in the morning the terrorist dreams will linger—I’ll tell you,
or maybe I will think I tell you that “I can’t seem to breathe them out.”
And then we’ll switch, you will come to sleep without me
at the moment I abandon the humid room to leave you in your pain.

29

Melanie Hinton

Reading the Creation with Gutenberg
Genesis 2:19–20
God is reading the news on his laptop, maybe,
looking up the score of the last game
hoping it’s a win for the A’s when you arrive
at the holy city, wanting in.
And He doesn’t know what to do with you—
look at your hands, ink-stained and scarred
from punching one too many type mouldsso He stakes a wager with Adam
who’s leaning on the glory gate, hankering
for game talk. He plants an entrance exam,
makes a wilderness, wants you to name
the parts. It’s easy, Adam says, I did it once.
I’m not like that, you say. You tell them about ligatures,
the stems and tails of words, how you once smithed
an alphabet from metal, up to your elbows in the names of things.
And as a last resort you drop, the 42-line Bible.
God, who’s weary of the printed page by now,
and never felt at home in lines or chapters anyway
says He prefers His city—so much less confining—
and He locks the gate behind Him. Adam waves.

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Hinton  S  Two Poems

And it’s okay, since you still have us as admirers.
I read you in my cabin, holed up here on Earth.
I watch words scatter on the page, then shiver
under pine light and fall back into lines.
I worship print. Outside, a red-faced warbler
nesting in a spruce tree hears us—
sings about your whispers in The Word.

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All Saints Eve, a Year and a Half Later
for Shawna, drowned in the Ogden River June 22, 1999
I planned to see you haunting your river,
not here in this dry Christian church
attending my organ practice.
Yet here you are, proof with nails—
your apparition tougher than hymnals
and Kleenex ghosts that hang from trees outside.
You’ve landed at the back of the chapel,
expelling light as if you live on it.
And I turn on my bench, ask
how river water fits your skin,
slipped into fingers, behind sockets
and the lake of yellow sprawled on your chin
that was the sharp cushion of the riverbed.
Resting on a pew, you look, reverent,
into dark corners. Just enough breath to say
something on the temperature of heaven. Water stirs
in your voice, your face full of theologyhow it felt going in water like that, drinking.
I could touch you, water and spirit,
baptizing myself in the texture of ghosts.
I could rethink your harsh edges
then carry you down Halloweened streets
toward home, past lanterns of flesh
whose lips now curl into light,
forgetting their fire. I tell you I’m sitting
on a bench thinking a sermon
and drowning in bone-weary want.

32

Amy Jensen

“Desert Night”
was a typo for three weeks of Relief
Society announcements. The sisters came anyway, angel food
cake, brownies, no-bake cookies, fondue in hand,
balancing compliments with éclairs.
It made the next Sunday’s testimony meeting awkward
when Charity Christensen called down forgiveness for the anorexic, the
bulimic.
Mary-like, we sat in ponderous silence.
It made me think about that special
on Karen Carpenter when I was nine
(I never knew her for her songs),
or stories of suspicious bathrooms
in the girl’s dorm where my cousin worked.
Still three weeks later I crossed our lot,
dried puncture weeds and wild grasses stiff from drought
digging into my sandals, scraping against my skirt
as the arid heat reflected off the tinfoil-covered serving plate I tried to hold
so steady.
Three houses down I dodged the gushing sprinklers, rang the bell, found
refuge
in the air-conditioned dining room, the easy laughter.
I did not know the reach and hold of hunger yet, that dessert
might not be sweeter than the taste of self-control,
or that my baklava’s sallow layers could crumble on lips,
flake and fall on calloused knuckles
bleached white with time
like so much brittle divinity.

33

Bicycle Blues
Excerpts from a memoir-always-in-progress with
the various titles: Bicycle Blues, Body Blue,
The Stuff of Dreams and Nightmares
Phyllis Barber

chemistry
I speak of my life in the present tense as it’s always with me.
Something important happens in the spring of 1963. It happens in a chemistry classroom at the Henry Eyring Science
Center at Brigham Young University, the kind of classroom built like the
side of a pit. The real chemistry happens when I walk through the door and
down the stairs, swinging my purse on its long strap. I’m nineteen, only half
aware that I’ve outgrown my gawky high school body and that I can register
an effect when I run my fingers through my long, silken hair, and slide my
long, smooth legs under a desk. David is sitting on the fifteenth row, watching me take my seat. Later, when it’s safe to say so, he tells me when he saw
me that day, he knew I was the one he wanted to marry. Of course, girls
like me fantasize about that kind of fairy tale—love at first sight—the stuff
of young dreams, the knight, the prince who can’t utter a word because he’s
speechless with awe.
It’s spring, when sap runs high and colts run frisky, and I’m running
for Vice President of Culture (the office that manages the weekly student
assemblies and consults with faculty regarding visiting artists and performers), while David runs for Vice President of Student Relations (the office
that manages the pep rallies, the song leaders, cheerleaders, flag twirlers, i.e.,
the campus hotties). One presidential and four vice presidential positions
are up for grabs. David returned from a mission for the LDS church the
previous fall and is enrolled as a junior. I am a sophomore. After passing
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the constitutional test we had to take to run for office and after conducting
hard-fought and hectic campaigns, we both win our respective offices. We
flirt and banter after Executive Council plenary meetings, and during summer vacation, David pursues his intention to marry me with carefully calculated letters sent from his home on Mt. Diablo Street in Concord, California.
We become engaged in September at Aspen Grove, in the same canyon
where Robert Redford will play a role as Jeremiah Johnson and where he
soon will buy a ski resort, name it Sundance, and then bankroll a film festival
of the same name. Beneath the autumn leaves drifting to the ground, David
quotes Marx to me, something about striding through the fields of the world
with our love to conquer all. Political science major that I am, I’m impressed.
I say yes.
During that year, we meet with the Executive Council weekly, meet at
times with President Ernest Wilkinson and other school administrators, and
attend many social functions as school dignitaries. After being nominated
by the Tribe of Many Feathers as their candidate for Homecoming Queen,
I’m selected as one of five finalists out of a field of fifty-five. (Who knows
why Martin Seneca, president of this club for Lamanites—the BYU term for
Native Americans—asks me to be the group’s candidate instead of one of
their own, but I’m pleased to represent them. With my black hair and olive
complexion, I’m reminiscent of the culture, if not part of it.) The photographer who snaps my picture in a dim basement hallway of the Student Center
says it’s very difficult to capture a beautiful woman on film. I’m flattered. But,
true to his words, the campaign photo that appears in The Daily Universe is
abysmal and I don’t receive enough votes to make the royal trio. Close, but
no cigar.
We travel to Concord at Christmastime to meet David’s somber family.
With shock, I realize this is not the gregarious Mormon scenario I’d hoped
for; his family is in a lot more trouble than my own. There’s a sterility in his
home, a starvation, an uneasy truce between his parents. There are secrets in
the walls. But though I have serious second thoughts about our marriage and
am pretty sure I’m making a mistake, I’m a woman of my word. I do what
I say I’ll do. I’m lucky someone has asked me to be his wife. After all, my
parents sent me to Brigham Young University with the hope of my finding a
good husband, the education being a secondary accomplishment. The worry
about the best education is reserved for my only brother, Stephen.
Too busy with school and extracurricular activities to question my deci36

Barber  S  Bicycle Blues

sion or listen to my deepest sense of what’s good for me, I keep my word.
And for all I know about love (I’ve dated very few young men, none of them
seriously, and I still have occasional feelings of awkwardness and insufficiency
from my natural shyness and devastatingly difficult pubescence), I think I’m
in love. That we have love. That love and enthusiasm can conquer all. I am
an optimist, above all else, even though I have my moments of indecision.
David says he’s surprised when I show up at the St. George temple. I am
two weeks into 21, David 24, and we, in the company of our parents, are
married in a white nineteenth-century temple set against red rock cliffs and a
sailor’s blue sky in southern Utah. We make our eternal promises on May 29,
1964. David beams and I avert my eyes shyly as we kneel on either side of the
altar where we become husband and wife, the innocent maiden granting her
hand to the her knight, the one who holds so many keys to her future and
beyond.
After the ceremony and a few snapshots with our parents’ box cameras as
we stand in front of the temple, then we speed in David’s brown and boaty
Plymouth back to the local TraveLodge where we can lose our virginity. A
tacky orange and brown bedspread is turned back, there are innocent fumblings and then a rapid and naïve consummation of our marriage. Both of us
wondering what it was all about, though neither of us dare say anything, we
drive to Las Vegas for a traditional Mormon wedding reception that night—
punch and nut cups and wedding cake served on glass plates on card tables
set up in my parents’ backyard. Underneath an arching trellis woven with blue
net and twinkling white lights, and between two columns covered with white
corrugated paper made to look like Roman columns, we greet friends who are
surprised at the good weather in our backyard. The wind is blowing and the
rain is falling all around our small yellow two-story tract home with its cinder
block wall, but oddly none blows or falls into our yard where the wedding
party stands in a reception line. My mother says that’s because of her prayers.
I believe her. She’s taught me to ask for God’s help in difficult times.
After two honeymoon nights at the Tally Ho, interspersed with a Saturday
visit to my parents’ home where David’s mother decides which wedding gifts
we should take with us, we drive back to Provo on Sunday and hit the ground
running. David is finishing his undergraduate degree in summer school, and
I’ve taken a job in the telegraph office at Geneva Steel, branch of U.S. Steel,
in Orem, Utah.
I’m ready to live a charmed life until I get very sick with honeymoon cys37

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 2 (2005)

titis, and until I encounter Ruby, one of the two regular telegraph operators
on the job who doesn’t want some bright-eyed BYU student working in the
same small room with her. Every day is a strain, and she makes clear that I’m
an intruder, a fifth wheel magnified. Ruby, however, has to bite her tongue.
After all, I’ve been hired for the summer to cover her vacation. Not helping
matters, the executive who hired me because his wife knew David’s mother
when they lived in California, asks me to play a role in a promotional movie
for U.S. Steel. I play the part of a secretary to a steel executive. Things worsen
with Ruby. Whenever she gets a chance, she makes snide remarks and makes
it all too clear that I’m distasteful to her during my time on the job.
Thus, the fingers of the real world start thrumming on the consciousness
of what I have liked to think of as my wide-eyed innocence.
As I prove my good Mormon wifeness by canning cherries, boiling water
in a hot kitchen with no air conditioning, all the time sicker than sick with
cystitis, I think of Ruby. Tightly curled red hair, narrow eyes, distrustful,
resentful. I can’t understand why. It’s only later that I understand how some
people resent BYU students with their golden glow, so full of their BYUness,
their goodness, their mission in life. I brashly think everyone loves a good,
wholesome BYU student, a girl with bounce to every ounce. Little do I know
how offensive I am to her, with my enthusiasm, my arrogance, even though
I can’t call it such a thing at the time. Everyone has to love me and my love
of life and God. They have to.

the legend
Marrying David and moving to the Bay Area in 1964 is, for me, like the disturbing of a tightly compressed sea shell. As the larger ocean washes my small
shell onto a beach and forces an opening, I’m impacted as snails, clams and
mussels are impacted. I feel the pull of the moon, the wind, the rain, and the
unceasing movement of water moving me across hot sand.
David has received scholarship offers from Hastings in Berkeley as well as
from Harvard, but when we decide to stay on the West Coast because of his
aging parents, we choose Stanford over Cal. When we’d visited the Berkeley
campus earlier in the year, we both felt an invisible turmoil, even a violent
rumbling of something beneath the surface. By the time we arrive in Palo
Alto in September, the Free Speech Movement is well under way in Berkeley
and is sending shock-waves throughout the Bay Area, the West Coast, and
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Barber  S  Bicycle Blues

the nation.
The missile crisis/Bay of Pigs. Malcolm X/Selma, Alabama/Meridian,
Mississippi/”We Shall Overcome.” Sexual Freedom rallies in Berkeley/burning bras. Volunteer psychological drug tests at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto
where David’s sister has been kept for twenty years, where we visit her on
Sundays and where Ken Kesey has been employed as a janitor. A qualified
Stanford student can be paid $140 for four weeks of testing: LSD the first
week, psilocybin the second, mescaline the third, and a mixture of all three
on the fourth. And, of course, Viet Nam.
Even though I stroll the quiet downtown streets of Palo Alto and inhabit
such normal establishments as Liddicoat’s Groceries where I buy asparagus and strawberries, and the House of Today where I covet sophisticated
Scandinavian housewares, and even though I attend the Stanford LDS
Student Ward and teach Cultural Refinement lessons in Relief Society, I
sense something like a tidal wave happening outside my safe shell, the fragile
encasement of what I’ve known.
There are those lost flower children who sit drugged-out on stoops in
Haight-Ashbury while television reporters speak to anxious parents who
can’t find them. There’s the notion of free love tangling around the societal
consciousness like tendrils on a vine. Bread trucks and step vans painted in
psychedelic flowers with mattresses in the back. Everything and everyone is
suddenly clad in tie-dye shirts and dresses and scarves—bursts of yellow like
bursts of acid, luminous greens, blues and reds. Long, flowing hippie hair.
Jesus types. Birkenstocks. No make-up. Mother Earth women with pendulous breasts hanging behind a veil of Mexican cotton.
Palo Alto, where hibiscus and calla lilies grow like weeds. Palo Alto, with
the Bijou where I see my first Bergman film, where David and I discover
Kepler’s Bookstore on El Camino Real and spend Saturday afternoons
searching the shelves and reading posters about North Beach happenings in
San Francisco--readings by Kerouac/Snyder/Ginsberg. Carol Doda, the topless dancer. New names to me. Sometimes we hear musicians jamming in the
back room.
I’m a shellfish being asked to step out of myself and swim into the bigger
world even though I’m still a hometown girl from Las Vegas, which is still,
in 1964, a small town. I’ve had cosmopolitan beginnings at a classical dance
studio in Las Vegas, where I played piano for the ballerinas and showgirls
from The Strip. I’ve watched Sally Rand, the famous fan dancer, do warm39

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 2 (2005)

up exercises at the barre. I’ve had high school friends whose parents were pit
bosses, casino managers, dealers, even a president of one of the hotels. But
none of that has the effect of the Bay Area, where I’m caught by the forces of
tides and sunspots and occasional meteors.
I’m employed at the Stanford Development Office where I compose letters
to corporate donors from President J. Wallace Sterling. He adds his personal
corrections to some of the letters, which I retype, and then I help one of the
Development officers with the preparation of the annual corporate donor
list. Everything seems so calm in the sandstone halls of Stanford, and yet,
when I walk outside, I’m not sure I can trust the serene rows of eucalyptus
trees lining the main boulevard.
One Saturday afternoon when I’m looking for something to fill the time I
spend alone because David’s first priority is his first year of law school, I wander into a Menlo Park music store on El Camino Real, your average-­looking
music store with cymbals, guitars, and banjos hanging from the ceiling.
When I see a sign behind the counter that says, “Banjo Lessons Available,”
I think that sounds good. I’ve always been involved in one kind of music or
another and why not learn the banjo? I love the Kingston Trio. Peter, Paul,
and Mary. “Puff, the Magic Dragon.”
“How much does it cost to rent a banjo?” I ask the clerk. He’s wearing a
T-shirt that says, “I Want to Take You Higher,” cut-off jeans, sandy-colored
Birkenstocks, and small rounded sunglasses.
“Fifteen dollars per month. But we’ll write it off if you take lessons.”
“Sign me up,” I say, and when I return three days later for my first banjo
lesson with my rental instrument in tow, the clerk accompanies me to a small
cubicle at the back of the store.
“You look like Joan Baez,” he says. “A button-down version, but yeah,
there’s a resemblance.”
“I love her voice,” I say as if I know a lot about her, though I’ve only heard
her on the radio. I’ve heard about her husband, Dave Harris, who’s a student
at Stanford and who’s getting lots of press for his anti-war speeches. I’ve heard
she has a shack in Big Sur.
“You’re taller, but both of you have that dark hair and olive skin and same
kind of eyes. Even the lips have something that’s similar. It’s uncanny. A little
eerie.” He holds back the curtain of the practice room.
“I hope to hear her sing in person sometime,” I say, holding the five-string
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Barber  S  Bicycle Blues

banjo awkwardly as I take my seat on the folding chair.
“Jerry,” he says. “Your new banjo student. Phyllis.”
Jerry doodles with his banjo, barely looking up. He plays a quick scale as
if it’s an afterthought, then stands and extends a hand. He’s got dark intense
eyes peering over the sunglasses at the end of his nose, a head of blue-black,
shoulder-length hair, and a turquoise tie-dye shirt over cotton pants and
sandals. I’m feeling overdressed in my uptown bell bottoms from Macy’s and
brown turtle neck sweater. A little like an alien.
“So you want to learn the banjo, huh?” he asks as he pushes the glasses
back up his nose and sits down.
“I’ve been a pianist since I was seven. It’s time to learn something new.”
“Sounds good.”
“I haven’t been in Palo Alto long,” I say. “My husband’s a law student at
Stanford.”
“My wife takes film classes there.”
“Cool,” I say, though I’m not feeling cool, and can sense the underarms of
my turtleneck sweater turning a moist, dark brown.
After he shows me a few chords he wants me to practice, he breaks into
a banjo riff. “‘Little Birdie’,” he says as he plants his left-hand fingers on the
frets with lightning speed. He’s good. He’s more than good. Even amazing,
and then I realize he’s missing a finger.
“How can you play like that with a missing finger?”
He doesn’t answer. He’s off in another world, playing music for a larger
audience, standing in front of big crowds in a trance. He’s off like a wild
horse on a race track. Running. No bells. No starting gate.
I sit quietly, enjoying the music but wondering when we’re going to get
back to the lesson. I’m hoping he’ll show me the chords one more time so I’ll
be able to remember them. “Could you help me with these chords again?”
I finally say.
“Sure,” he says, though I’m beginning to suspect he’s bored with basic
chords and, probably, these lessons he teaches to keep the wolf from the
door. Nevertheless, I leave the music store thinking I’ll be good on the banjo
because, after all, I’m a pianist who’s gotten lots of strokes for my ­technique.
After three lessons, however, I find the chords harder and harder, and I’m
wondering if this is such a good idea. Jerry seems better suited for the stage
than for the back room of a music store with a student who has no higher
aspirations than to learn how to pick a tune and the few chords needed for
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Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 2 (2005)

backup.
When I arrive at the store for what I don’t know will be the last of my lessons, Jerry’s talking with the clerk who raises his hand in greeting but talks on
as if I weren’t there. I hear new language: “strobe lights, Merry Pranksters in
the warehouse, a batch of electric kool-aid, and Bob Weir’s coming in tomorrow.” When the clerk finally says to Jerry, “Your 3:30’s here,” then to me,
“Enjoy your lesson with Captain Trips Garcia,” they both laugh and kibitz
and rattle on some more. I feel as though I’m a square-shelled creature with
tight hinges, not privy to this language or this scene. Maybe I can find a way
into this world behind walls, but maybe I don’t care whether I do or not.
Jerry’s wearing dark glasses, as always, and as we walk back to the practice
room, I wonder about his name. “Garcia,” I say. “An ancestor of mine wrote
an essay called ‘A Message to Garcia.’”
“Lots of Garcias,” he says as he sits down with his banjo and starts to play.
He’s like a music box sitting across from me on a metal folding chair, always
riffing off on his banjo while I wait quietly to learn a few elementary chords.
Who is this man called Garcia? I wonder, and suddenly I know I’m a stranger
in a strange land where something is happening that I don’t understand.
Garcia of the dark hair, the dark eyes that seldom surface over the tops of his
dark glasses, and when they do, I sense a trickster in their darkness, a mocking of my conventionality and my limited perception of the basic chords.
This is something I’ve never seen before.
Suddenly, the cubicle where we sit feels especially small and insufficient
for me and for his music. I feel as though the tide’s running too high here,
and I should stay away from the edges of the shore. When I play my C, G,
and F chords and play two scales for Jerry with awkward fingers, my elbows
akimbo, he stares off into space as if something is out there waiting for him.
He’s a man who doesn’t fit into this small room behind a curtain at the back
of a music store in Menlo Park. He’s a man consumed by this instrument, by
its speed and intensity, and this takes up the space of the cubicle where we’re
playing the game of master and student.
After he shows me how to use my fingers like hammers on the strings,
my inward-bending fingers won’t perform like his. They slip. They feel
like lobster pincers. The hand that’s wrapped around the neck of the banjo
cramps.
“Maybe I should spend my extra time with my piano,” I say in that
moment of truth, thinking this isn’t something I need to master after all.
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Barber  S  Bicycle Blues

Dabbling wouldn’t do. “I always need work on the piano.”
“Whatever works for you,” he says, though he answers too quickly. I want
him to coax me to continue, to tell me I have some talent. Everyone always
tells me I have talent. Maybe I want to be a part of his world, just a little bit,
to know more about electric kool-aid and light shows and Merry Pranksters.
He looks at me, absent-mindedly scurrying his fingers over the strings, and
waits for an answer. I can’t get a read on this man. It’s like he’s not in this
room.
“Thanks for the lessons.” I rub my thumb prints off the frets of my instrument so I can return it to the clerk. “You’re great on the banjo, but I think
I’m going to get serious about my piano again.”
Jerry lifts his banjo up and takes the strap off his shoulder. He sighs. “Take
care of yourself,” he says, and I, without a clue, leave the presence of a man
who’ll be a legend.

let’s get physical
The belly dancing begins innocently enough.
It’s 1977 and I’m living in Salt Lake City. My sister Kathy and I decide we
need to spend more time together, and a dance class seems just the thing.
We’ve grown apart, and I want to be a caring sister to my sibling who’s straying away from the righteous life. And, make no mistake, we’ve been well
instructed about that: serve the Kingdom of God, serve others, serve our
families, though Kathy doesn’t have a family yet. Trouble is, she isn’t all that
interested in dancing. I’m the one who gets hooked.
Maybe she has a better relationship with her physical body and has no
need of the exotic, but I’ve always been rail thin, called “Philly Bones” and
“Skinny Minny.” I’d exploded to 5’9” in the seventh grade, and it took several years for the rest of the body to catch up. Flat chest, acne, braces, and
eyeglasses, I wasn’t an especially pretty sight, and it hasn’t been easy to outrun
this image of myself.
So, here I am at the YWCA in Salt Lake City, thirty-four years old. I’m
still going to church, but every Tuesday night, I learn big and small hip
circles, the step-hip move, Egyptians, belly rolls, and snake arms. I call it
folk dancing, which it is, to a point. At first I feel immensely awkward, like
a camel dressed in the chiffon skirt I wear to class. But as the weeks go by,
I start to feel the Woman inside myself, the sensuous, sensual, earthy Woman
who’s more than skin and bones.
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“This is about being female,” the teacher says. “This is about giving birth,
about giving life, about being the woman who conceives and ripens and
bursts.” I feel my body becoming rounder, even as she speaks.
I become a devotee. I take other mid-Eastern dance classes at the University
of Utah and at small, discreet dance studios. I go to workshops, even to one
in Las Vegas where my parents still live and where I stay for the weekend.
My parents don’t say much, but they’re worried about my marriage. They’ve
been keeping a watchful eye on David, who seems unorthodox to them.
David enjoys baiting my mother and her certainty, though he’s diplomatic
in his efforts. He knows a more shocking history of Joseph Smith than she
does, so there’s always a clash on those small details. He cares for my parents,
especially my father, and yet his tendency to challenge givens always ruffles
feathers at my parents’ home.
Although my parents express a polite interest in this new turn in the life
of their middle daughter, they’re keeping an eye on me as well. Thank goodness my father has always loved dancing; somehow my newfound interest
fits the general category of permissible movement to music. My parents don’t
roll their eyes when my friend Patricia and I walk out the front door in our
costumes, though they don’t seem to have words for the occasion.
At one of the workshops, an Iranian drummer gives me the name of
“Anoush,” which he says means “Beloved.” I enjoy being Anoush. I learn
all the rhythms one can play on the zils. I buy scarves and coin belts and
a sequined bra. One night I perform at the Grecian Gardens restaurant in
Murray. I feel the earth rising up through the soles of my feet.
The BYU Law School where David is teaching has a faculty party. They
hear I’ve been dancing and ask for a performance. They’re not an insular
bunch, after all. Some of them smile and clap their hands to the doumbek
drumbeat and the wailing sound of the oud. Most ask polite, intellectual questions after I dance. I tell them about my serious interest in folk
­ethnography.
Just beginning to publish my writing and encouraged by editor Paul
Swenson, I write an article, “What Does a Nice Girl Like Me Get Out of
Belly Dancing?” for Utah Holiday. The photographer takes exotic pictures in
my backyard à la veils, zils, bare midriff, and bare feet. I’m a new woman.
I have a new image.
The avid belly dancers get together and give performances for their friends
and significant others, and suddenly, I’m part of a new group of women. Not
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the conservative Junior League volunteer types or the earnest Mormon ladies,
but women who more openly enjoy the art of the earthy feminine, the art of
being alive. I feel the boundaries around myself loosening. I love feeling my
body move and undulate and sway. I love being in my body, literally, for the
first time as I’ve always been ashamed of my rail-thin body and boxy hips.
This is a chance to start moving from the inside, to feel what it is to be a
woman with a pelvis, breasts, a stomach, and a womb. This is a chance to love
the sensual woman I am instead of the proper, well-mannered, button-down
and zipped-up community volunteer/good neighbor I’ve always tried to be.
After giving birth to four sons, I start giving birth to Phyllis, the Woman.
No longer was I content to be Phyllis, the Good Girl, or Phyllis, the Tight
Rigid One Who Never Breaks Rules That Are Always Lurking in Every
Corner. I attend dream analysis groups, women’s groups, sweat lodges,
Solstice celebrations, Native American ceremonies. At each new event, I meet
a wider circle of women.
I begin teaching belly dancing in our home. Chris, Jeremy, and Brad
peek around the doorframe to watch the women twirling and floating their
scarves through the air. They stare. They giggle. I teach neighbors and women
from the Valley View 8th Ward and also women in the LDS Relief Society in
Grantsville, a small mining/agricultural town to the west of Salt Lake City.
Each week I drive past the Great Salt Lake catching glimpses of the huge
blue expanse, the seagulls, the bleak salty sand where no trees grow, the
towering Oquirrhs, the Kennecott Copper smelter. Some of my students’
husbands work in those mines. How we end up having belly dancing lessons
in the church’s cultural hall I don’t remember, but the women arrange everything. Week after week, they arrive in their leotards, puffy scarves tied around
their waists, and the zils I’ve ordered from a catalogue attached to their fingers with elastic. I bring my boom box and fill the hall with the sounds of
the Middle East. It’s definitely an unusual activity for the Grantsville ward
house, but no one could claim it wasn’t an uplifting, cross-cultural one. “It’s
about the joy of your body, which is your temple,” I tell the class. “When
you dance, tell the story of who you are and what matters to you. This isn’t
about being a cabaret dancer, which of course some of us might like to be in
our wildest dreams.” Everyone giggles. “It’s about you.”
We become fast friends, dancing every week together, laughing, enjoying
this new kind of sisterhood, and one of the students even arranges for me to
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ride the big bucket down into the mines with her husband and some other
miners, all of us dressed in slickers and sou’westers to keep dry, water dripping everywhere as we descend into the earth.
“My wife’s enjoying your dance class,” the student’s husband says, grinning. “You think maybe us husbands could see what you girls are up to?”
“You know you’re not allowed in Relief Society,” I tease him. He gives
me a royal tour—trains into tunnels, maps of the mine, locations of offices.
But several weeks later, I receive an invitation to perform for the Grantsville
Chamber of Commerce, apparently attended by many of the students’
husbands. “Of course,” I say, lulled by the pleasure the women have shared
together. I take my most modest costume, make an agreement with myself to
dance conservatively, and, as I drive to Grantsville in the dark rather than the
daylight, I turn on the light to recheck my face in the mirror. I don’t want to
wear too much makeup.
When the music begins and I make my entrance, I see these men, their
faces above their Salisbury steak dinners, their neckties, their collars, their
various heads of hair. Suddenly I can’t see any individual faces as I dance.
They all become Church Fathers staring at Salome as I dance. Then their
faces blur as I twirl. I’m nervous. Maybe I don’t fathom the power of my
own body or my dancing, but the joy and playful innocence I feel with the
women isn’t here at this restaurant tonight. My smile is plastic. My bare feet
feel the grunge on the floor. I wish I would have worn a long-sleeved shirt
and workout pants and done aerobics for them. I decide to cut the last section of my dance, make a pretty bow, then find my coat immediately, say the
necessary good-byes and hit the road back to Salt Lake.
I never go back to Grantsville, at least to teach dancing. The lessons stop
immediately. They’ve been cancelled. I’m never told what happened, or who,
if anyone, orders the wives to quit. Maybe the men got a whiff of too much
liberation for the sensible women in their lives.

46

One-Eighty
Selections from a work-in-progress titled As God Once Was:
A Memoir of Growing up Mormon
Christopher Kimball Bigelow
In the autumn of 1985, I was living with my friends Rick and
Lance in a three-bedroom apartment on 200 North, just a
couple of blocks up Capitol Hill from Temple Square. Across
the street, in a park area, lay the graves of my great-great-great-grandfather
Heber C. Kimball and several of his wives and progeny. The apartment itself
was likely located on Heber’s former land.
When one of Lance’s friends from the restaurant where he worked got
kicked out of her apartment, he told her she could stay with us. Several years
older than us, Lori was a dirty-blonde chain smoker. Rick and I welcomed
her because she was old enough to buy us alcohol.
One afternoon, Lori burst into the apartment and shouted, “You’re not
going to believe this!”
“What?” Rick said from the couch.
“I just saw a guy get blown up by a car bomb.” Lori pointed west. “Half
a block away. Right in front of the gym.”
“I thought I heard sirens,” I said.
“It was unbelievable,” Lori said. “I was looking right at the guy. He was
kneeling on the front seat, reaching for something in back. He picked it up,
started to turn around, and then ‘Boom.’ I saw him go flying.”
“Was he hurt?” Rick asked.
“Oh, yeah. Big hole blown in his knee, and blood on his head too. He was
conscious, but he couldn’t hear us.”
“So you’re an official witness?” I asked.
“You better believe it,” she said. “I’ve already spent more time talking with
the fuzz than I ever hoped to in my life.”
“Is this related to those other bombings?” Rick asked.
“Definitely. I heard the police talking about it.”
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We didn’t know it yet, but the person Lori had seen get blown up was
Mark Hofmann, who’d already killed two people with pipe bombs to cover
up his unraveling forgery scheme. An outwardly practicing Mormon who
was secretly apostate, he had forged several documents purported to be
from early Mormon history and sold them to the LDS Church, including
documents that exposed embarrassing details about Joseph Smith’s interests
in folk magic and the occult. The most notorious document was a letter
describing how a magical white salamander, rather than the Angel Moroni,
had appeared with the Golden Plates.
The city’s response to the scandal ranged from paranoia to jubilation. Our
favorite nightclub announced an “Attack of the White Salamander” theme
party, advertised with posters showing a Godzilla-sized white salamander
stomping through the streets of Salt Lake City. For Halloween that year, I
saw several people dressed up as white salamanders.
“Okay, so this letter turned out to be a forgery,” my friend Richard said.
“But the Mormon Church bought it and tried to hide it. They must do that
kind of thing all the time.”
“They probably have a whole vault of embarrassing stuff,” I said.
Lance said, “My question is, if the church is supposedly led by prophets,
why would God let them be tricked like that?”
“Exactly,” I said. “Anyway, I heard Spencer W. Kimball is completely
senile. He’s not even leading the church anymore.”
While I felt completely cynical about the modern church corporation,
I enjoyed imagining that Joseph Smith might have dabbled in treasure digging, folk magic, and the occult—in fact, I would have felt disappointed
to learn he had not. To me, those interests demonstrated imagination and
creativity that the prophet’s religion had subsequently lost. If Mormonism
had ever offered me anything as cool and freaky as a talking white salamander,
I never would have left it.
S   S   S

As 1985 wound down, I was feeling increasingly restless and dissatisfied. My
girlfriend Pamela and I had just finished another cycle of getting together
and breaking up. I’d registered for a mass communications course at the
University of Utah, but I couldn’t motivate myself to attend class or do the
homework. One evening I tried snorting drugs with a friend, but it didn’t do
anything. We figured we’d been ripped off with talcum powder or c­ ornstarch.
People were starting to drop out of our social scene in alarming ways.
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Lance was diagnosed with HIV. Lisa developed schizophrenia and wouldn’t
leave her bedroom. Derek got arrested for molesting a child. Dean almost
died in a drug-related car crash. Other people I knew went into rehab or
tried to commit suicide. Only Rick seemed to be doing well, making money
as a waiter at one of Salt Lake’s most exclusive private clubs and driving a red
Fiat convertible.
I decided I wanted to concentrate more on Flourishing Wasteland, a local
alternative magazine I’d been daydreaming about for several months. To
get some privacy, I moved into a studio apartment near Brigham Young’s
gravesite on First Avenue, with the Salt Lake Temple and its spire looming
out the window like a spaceship undergoing countdown on a launch pad.
My dad loaned me money for an Atari computer that plugged into my TV
set, and I started typing my observations and opinions about the Salt Lake
alternative scene.
One morning, while the water was turned off in the apartment building,
Richard dropped by to get high with me.
“Hey, what happened to your water?” he called from the kitchen, where
he’d gone to refill my bong.
“They’re working on the building,” I yelled back. “Let’s just roll a joint.”
When I returned from my parking valet job that evening, the door to my
apartment was ajar, and I could hear someone inside making noise.
“Who’s there?” I called.
The building manager rounded the corner from my kitchenette. “I want
to know what the hell you think you’re doing,” she said, glaring at me. “You
left your sink on, and the apartment downstairs is completely flooded. And
what the hell is that.” She pointed to the wall where I’d spray-painted the
words Flourishing Wasteland in three-foot-high letters, surrounded by a colorful psychedelic design.
The next day, I moved back home to Bountiful.
S   S   S

After a few weeks of living with the family, I accepted my dad’s invitation to
accompany him and the older kids to southern California for a long ­weekend.
While the kids went to Disneyland, my dad and I relaxed on the beach
and later enjoyed an expensive seafood dinner. During our conversations, he
didn’t push me about religion at all. I wondered how much he and my mom
had discussed their strategy for handling me. Overall, they were showing
admirable restraint.
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I craved nicotine during the trip, but it wasn’t as uncomfortable as I’d
expected. On the way home, we stopped at a Las Vegas casino for the cheap
prime rib buffet. While we ate, the conversation somehow turned to the
topic of the devil.
“One time when I was out of town on a business trip,” my dad said, “your
mother heard some snarling just outside the window. She felt such a cold,
bad spirit that she knew the devil was somehow involved. We don’t know if
it was a possessed animal or what. She was too scared to sleep all night, and
she kept praying. Luckily, nothing else happened.”
“What if something else had happened?” my sister Stacey asked. “What if
the devil tried to get her?”
“Well, you’ve been taught what to do, haven’t you?” my dad said. “You
raise your arm to the square and say, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to depart.’”
“What if you don’t know it’s the devil?” my brother Andrew asked. “What
if it seems like a good spirit?”
“It tells us what to do right in the Doctrine and Covenants. Do you
remember, Chris?”
“Something about shaking hands,” I said.
“Right. You try to shake hands with the spirit. If it’s a good spirit, it will
decline. If it’s an evil spirit, it will try to deceive you, but you won’t be able
to feel anything.”
“Has that ever happened to you, Dad?” I asked.
“No, and I’m grateful,” he said. “The thing we have to always remember
is that if we have faith in Christ, the devil can’t hurt us.”
“Maybe he’s secretly working for God,” I said. “Like Slugworth in the
Willy Wonka movie.”
“No, I don’t think so,” my dad said. “I think he truly hates us and wants
to destroy us. And remember, he has millions of spirits helping him. So don’t
underestimate him.”
S   S   S

A couple of nights later, I was sitting in bed during the wee hours writing in
my journal. Occasionally I could hear the wind gusting outside the window.
Our family dog Buff was pacing and whining, even though I’d already let
her out to pee.
I was writing about what move I wanted to make next in my life. Do
another issue of Flourishing Wasteland ? Register for more classes at the uni50

Bigelow  S One-Eighty

versity? Get another apartment? Give it another shot with Pamela? Find a
new girlfriend? Take up Mimi on her offer to try heroin? Pull a one-eighty
and put in my papers for a mission?
At one point, when I paused from my writing and looked toward the
center of the room, I felt a strange kind of thump about six feet in front of
me. My heart started to race. Lying near my feet, Buff raised her head and
let out a bark, followed by a low growl.
I hadn’t seen anything, but the sensation was undeniable—and it was
angry. It felt as though something had tried to punch through an invisible
barrier right next to me. Something had tried to force its way into my bedroom. Something was trying to get me.
With my stomach fluttering, I stood up, walked over to the light switch,
and flipped it on. Buff leapt down from the bed and started to pace again.
“Must be a flashback,” I said out loud.
I waved my hand in front of my face, but I didn’t see any psychedelic tracers. I stared at different items around the room, but no colors appeared extra
vivid and no textures crawled or pulsated.
I got back into bed, scooted myself into the corner, and wrapped my arms
around my knees. My mouth was dry, and I could feel my breathing. I was
waiting for the next thump.
Several minutes passed. When the wind surged especially loud outside,
I jumped. Lying next to me, Buff lifted her head, licked her chops, and let
out a little whine. I felt a tingle creep down my back.
Searching my bedside table for possible distractions, my eyes fell on the
Stephen King novel I was reading, but I knew that wouldn’t help. Then I saw
my mom’s Bach tape. I stood up, inserted the tape into my stereo, and leapt
back into bed as if something might sink its teeth into my rear end.
As I stroked Buff’s head and listened to the trilling and plinking of the
harpsichord, I knew everything had changed.
S   S   S

After a few hours of sleep, I awoke with Joseph Smith on my mind. I’d heard
the story countless times of how the devil had attacked fourteen-year-old
Joseph when he knelt in the grove of trees to ask God which church was true.
I crept upstairs to the living room and took down one of the family’s
leather-bound scripture volumes. I flipped past the Book of Mormon and
Doctrine and Covenants until I found the passage from Joseph Smith’s personal history:
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Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 2 (2005)
After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began
to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when
immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me,
and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I
could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for
a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power
of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I
was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an
imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world,
who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at
this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above
the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

A shudder passed through me as I read. I hadn’t been praying, but perhaps
writing in my journal was like a prayer. Looking around the room, I wondered if something invisible was circling me even now, probing for weak
spots. I slammed the scriptures shut and went into the kitchen.
Stacey sat at the counter, looking pale and holding on to a book.
“So how did you sleep?” my mom asked. She was standing at the stove
in her nightgown, stirring scrambled eggs. “We had some real nightmares
around here last night. Stacey still won’t let go of Jesus the Christ.”
I furrowed my brow at my sister. “No nightmares. But I did feel something weird last night. Some kind of disturbance in the Force, I guess.”
My mom stopped stirring and looked at me. “What do you mean?”
“I didn’t see anything, but . . . I don’t know how to describe it. I think
something tried to get me.”
My mom moved the frying pan to a cold burner and stepped over the
baby playing on her blanket. “What do you think it was?”
“Well, I was just writing in my journal, and I felt this spiritual attack . . .
type of thing.”
My mom’s eyes widened. “Sounds like you made somebody mad. What
exactly were you writing about?”
“Just options for the future.”
She looked at me intently.
“That’s all,” I continued. “Just some ideas about stuff.”
“Well, don’t let him intimidate you,” she said.
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“Don’t let who intimidate me?”
“You know who. Don’t let him push you around. If he bothers you again,
say a prayer and let Heavenly Father deal with him.”
As we ate breakfast, Stacey kept her haunted eyes on both of us. After
chewing a bite of toast, my mom said, “Do you remember Heber C.
Kimball’s experience as a missionary in England?”
I scowled at the mention of the word missionary.
“You know, the encounter with the demons?”
“Vaguely.”
“We’ll look it up after breakfast. I don’t think the other kids need to hear
it today.”
Later, my mom sat next to me in the living room with an old black book.
Its spine was broken, and Heber’s portrait was stamped into the leather cover.
She let the book fall open to a page marked with pink highlighter.
“Okay, this happened to Heber the night before he and his companions
baptized their first converts in the River Ribble in Preston.”
I was struck with great force by some invisible power and fell senseless on the
floor as if I had been shot, and the first thing that I recollected was that I was
supported by Brothers Hyde and Russell, who were beseeching the throne of
grace in my behalf. They then laid me on the bed, but my agony was so great
that I could not endure, and I was obliged to get out, and fell on my knees
and began to pray. I then sat on the bed and could distinctly see the evil spirits, who foamed and gnashed their teeth upon us. They came towards us like
armies rushing to battle. They appeared to be men of full stature, possessing
every form and feature of men in the flesh who were angry and desperate. We
distinctly heard those spirits talk and express their wrath and hellish designs
against us. Their awful rush upon me with knives, threats, imprecations and
hellish grins amply convinced me that they were no friends of mine. I fought
them and contended with them face to face, until they began to diminish in
number and to retreat from the room.

My mom paused. “Yours wasn’t that bad, was it?”
“No.”
“Here’s a little more.” She continued reading:
The last imp that left turned round to me as he was going out and said, as if
to apologize and appease my determined opposition to them, “I never said
anything against you!” I replied to him thus: “It matters not to me whether
you have or have not; you are a liar from the beginning! In the name of Jesus
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Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 2 (2005)
Christ, depart!

She closed the book. “When Heber told Joseph Smith about the attack,
Joseph said it meant that the work of God was taking root in the land. As
you know, Heber went on to baptize thousands.”
“And you really think he saw these demons—I mean, with his bare eyes?”
“Absolutely. They’re real.”
“How could they use knives if they don’t have physical bodies?”
“That’s a good question.”
We were quiet for a few moments. “You know,” my mom finally said, “the
devil had quite a program worked out for you. I can see why he’s so mad,
after all that work.”
“This doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going back to church.”
My mom ran her fingers over Heber’s image. “That’s between you and
Heavenly Father. Spiritually you’re his son, not mine. I have to keep reminding myself of that.”
S   S   S

That evening, my dad came into my bedroom while I was trying to read my
accounting textbook.
“Your mom told me what happened,” he said.
“Yeah.”
“We’ve been praying something would wake you up spiritually. But we
didn’t expect this. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. I just hope it doesn’t come back.”
“Usually the devil’s best tactic is making people think he doesn’t exist. But
he blew that with you.”
“I guess so.”
“You’ll like it better when you feel the Holy Ghost. Do you think you’ve
ever felt it?”
“Maybe some tingling a couple of times. Like when I got my patriarchal
blessing.”
“I can feel it right now. You know what you have to do if you want to feel
it, don’t you.”
“Pray, study the scriptures, fast, pay tithing, all that stuff.”
“Keep the law of chastity and the Word of Wisdom.”
“Yeah, all that stuff.”
“If you want a blessing of strength and comfort, let me know. You might
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need some help breaking certain habits. Now, would you like to come
upstairs for family prayer?”
It was the first time anyone had invited me for family prayer since I’d
moved back home. I could feel myself getting caught in a current, but I
decided to go along with it.
S   S   S

A few days after the disturbance, my sometimes girlfriend Pamela called. Her
voice made me feel warm below my stomach.
“Are you heading into Salt Lake tonight?” she asked.
“Yeah.” I was planning to play cards with Rick and some others at Sharon’s
apartment. I was going to fake taking a puff whenever the joint came to me.
“Do you want to pick me up?”
“I guess.”
When Pamela sat down in the passenger’s seat of my parents’ white Mazda
hatchback, she smiled at me. I hadn’t seen her in several weeks. I noticed she
was wearing makeup.
She squinted at the car stereo. “What are you listening to?”
“Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. It’s the best one.”
“Yuck. Even your Big Black was better than that.”
I breathed in and out. Then I said, “I’m exploring some other pathways
in life.”
“You’re wigging me out, is what you’re doing.” Pamela began patting her
coat pockets.
“No smoking in my family’s car. And guess what—I haven’t had a cigarette
in three days.”
Her hands stopped moving. “Can’t you sneak outside or something?”
“I’ve chosen not to smoke anymore.”
Pamela pulled out her pack of cigarettes and frowned at me. I kept my
eye on the road, knowing she was jealous because she’d often tried to quit
smoking.
She held the pack on the flat of her palm for a few moments. Then she
crushed it in her fist, rolled down the window, and threw it out.
“What else?” she asked, brushing tobacco crumbs off her thighs.
“What else what?”
“What else is going on with you?”
I let out my breath. “What do you think?”
“You’re not going back to the church.”
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“It’s helping me stop worrying about the future.”
“Moo,” she said.
“I may go on a mission.”
Her eyes opened wide, and she let out a hurt sound.
I corrected my grip on the steering wheel and glanced at her. “Give me
proof it’s not true.”
“Give me proof it is,” she said. “Anyway, just look at all that white salamander stuff.”
“A forgery doesn’t prove anything.”
On the car stereo, the harpsichord rose and fell as if mirroring our
­argument.
“Look,” I said, turning down the music. “I’m tired of sex and drugs and
rock and roll. There’s no future in it. Maybe I’m starting to believe in the
devil. And I don’t think he’s a nice person.”
Pamela gripped her knees and looked out the windshield.
As I merged onto the freeway, she said, “My dad dreamed I’ll be married
in the temple. He says it’s a prophecy, but how the hell would he know?”
“Power of the priesthood,” I said. It was a term she’d told me that her dad
often used.
She snorted. “He says some people believe the gospel, and some people
believe in people who believe the gospel. He says I’m going to find someone
I can believe in, some returned missionary or something.”
“Maybe he’s talking about me.”
Pamela made an exasperated sound and looked away. We were passing an
oil refinery that was lit up fantastically bright. A flame blasted up from a pipe
like the devil’s cigarette lighter.
“It makes me sick how the Mormons waited so long to accept the blacks,”
Pamela blurted out. “And I can’t believe they won’t accept the gays. And why
couldn’t women have more than one husband?”
“God wouldn’t want five men sitting around while one woman was
pregnant,” I said, answering the only question to which I could imagine an
answer.
“Works out nice for the men, doesn’t it. Another thing I can’t stand is how
the Church thinks it’s the only right one. Anyone who doesn’t accept it is
defective or something. Mormons have all the answers, and everyone else is
an idiot.”
“This is good practice for my mission.”
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“You’re not really going, are you?” She grabbed my knee.
“What else am I going to do, start shooting up?”
“What are you talking about?” She let go of my knee.
“I’ve got to do something different. If the devil doesn’t want me to go on a
mission, that’s good enough reason to go.”
“How do you know the devil doesn’t want you to go on a mission?”
“Believe me, I know.”
“Maybe you just need to start exercising more. It makes you feel so much
better. Come with me to the gym.”
“No way. I don’t believe in torturing myself.”
We fell silent as the car sped past the state capitol and down Main Street
into downtown Salt Lake City. On our right, the temple rose above Temple
Square. On our left towered the vanilla-colored Church Office Building,
where I’d sometimes imagined that Oompa-Loompas worked for the Lord.
S   S   S

I started to kneel at my bedside each evening and pray aloud. When I closed
my eyes and projected my thoughts toward the center of the universe, my
consciousness seemed to expand beyond the confines of my own head.
No one answered back, but I thought I could sense an undercurrent of
­attentiveness.
The main thing I asked for was protection against more thumps. If that
meant embracing my family’s faith, I prayed for humility to do so. Part of
me hoped Heavenly Father would whisper a different path to my mind, but
I couldn’t imagine what such a path would be. Choosing another Christian
denomination instead of Mormonism made about as much sense as choosing
a typewriter over a computer. But obviously I needed something, otherwise I
got mixed up with dark forces that went thump in the night.
The first time I attended church with my family, I felt a better vibe than
I’d expected. Former Scoutmasters and Sunday School teachers swarmed
around me as though I were returning from a two-year mission instead of a
two-year rebellion. The Church was still teaching the same old watered-down
gospel principles, but I listened with new interest, hoping something would
turn me on. Deep down I expected that I’d have to go on a mission to experience anything major enough spiritually to counterweigh the scary thump.
My siblings grew less guarded around me, as if I were their brother again
and not some uncouth houseguest. When my parents looked at me, I could
see both pride and relief in their eyes. The only time their faces clouded was
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when I said I was getting together with Pamela again.
Pamela maintained that I was crazy for reconsidering Mormonism, but
she surprised me by taking a sudden interest in classical music, especially
Beethoven. Listening to the Ninth Symphony, we’d make out on her waterbed most nights of the week. I wouldn’t allow our hands to touch any intimate spots, but we rolled around enough that I usually went home either
aching or with a wet spot in my jeans.
One evening Pamela asked me to accompany her onto her parents’ back
patio. Under the moonlight, she lit a Marlboro.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I just can’t do it.”
She blew the smoke away from me, but I breathed in enough nicotine to
feel some glimmers. I hadn’t smoked in several days, and I thought I was free
of the habit. However, my arm rose zombie-like and took the cigarette from
Pamela’s mouth.
As I dragged deeply and then coughed a little, Pamela’s eyes did a victory
dance in the moonlight. She lit herself a new cigarette, and I finished her
old one. Dizzy with nicotine, I said I needed to go home, and she tucked
several cigarettes into my shirt pocket. As we hugged good-bye, she brushed
her hand against my crotch.
Home in my basement bedroom, I paced the floor. Now that I’d compromised my spirituality by smoking, would the evil force break through and
get me? Should I just give up and go back to my old life? As I thought about
making love to Pamela, desire and nausea churned together in my stomach.
Around midnight, I was trying to read the scriptures, but my mind kept
returning to the cigarettes I’d tucked into the drawer of my bedside table.
Finally I grabbed a couple and snuck out the basement door.
When I came back inside, my dad was standing at his desk in his familiar
striped bathrobe, rooting around in some papers. I closed my fist around the
butts, which I was intending to flush down the toilet.
“Smells like you’re having second thoughts,” he said.
I looked down. “It’s not really what I want.”
“Well, I think it’s amazing how much progress you’ve made in such a short
time. Most people who get so deeply involved don’t ever make it back out.”
I didn’t say anything.
“You ready for that blessing I offered?”
I nodded, and he gestured to an office chair. Laying his warm hands on
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my head, he paused for a few moments, and I could hear him working his
tongue against the roof of his mouth. Then he called me by name, invoked
the Melchizedek priesthood, and blessed me with greater strength to resist
temptation, especially tobacco. He admonished me to keep doing religious
things so I could feel the Holy Ghost and gain a stronger testimony of the
true gospel. I expected him to mention a mission, but he did not.
The sensation I felt during the blessing was not unlike a nicotine buzz.
S   S   S

“No cigarettes, and no sex,” I told Pamela the next evening. We were sitting
on a velvety couch in her parents’ basement, which still had orange shag
carpet and gothic hanging lamps.
“Not that again,” she said. “I want you in bed with me, where you belong.”
I scooted away from her. “Is this good-bye, then?”
“I hate it when you play head games.”
“No head games. Just no sex and no cigarettes. This time I mean it. My
dad gave me a blessing, and I think it’s working.”
Pamela scowled at me and folded her arms.
“I want a blessing too then,” she said after a few moments. “Can you give
me a blessing?”
“I don’t have the Melchizedek priesthood.”
“Do you think your dad would give me one?”
“Why not your own dad?”
“I wouldn’t want my parents to know.” Pamela looked down at her hands.
“They’d just freak out and go overboard. I’m not saying I want to be Mormon
again. I just want a blessing. I’ve tried everything else.”
I considered whether my father would be willing to give Pamela a blessing.
My parents were nice enough to her face, but I knew they were worried about
her influence on me. Would they interpret her request as a positive development, or would they think it was a manipulation? I wasn’t sure I knew which
one it was myself.
“The thing is, I don’t want it for smoking,” Pamela said.
I looked at her. “If you don’t want to quit, what’s the point of getting a
blessing?”
“I do want to quit. But something else is bugging me more. I’m sick of
throwing up. I’m sick of bulimia.”
I laughed.
“It’s not funny. The doctor says my ulcers are getting worse.” She put a
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hand on her throat. “They’re moving up my esophagus.”
“I thought you hated Mormonism.”
“I want to see if a blessing can help my bulimia.”
A few days later, my dad gave Pamela the blessing, and it seemed to put
her in a fantastic mood. Afterward, my parents took us out for Mexican food.
I watched Pamela take small bites and chew her food thoroughly. She left half
an enchilada on her plate, but she didn’t excuse herself to use the restroom.
In the car on the way home, she chewed antacid tablets.
S   S   S

The bishop was a beefy, toupee-wearing man with his own carpet-cleaning
business. After I’d settled into the seat across the desk from him, he welcomed me back to church and congratulated me on my willingness to serve
a mission.
“How long has it been since you let go of the iron rod?”
“Two years.”
“And what made you decide to go on a mission?”
“I guess I finally found out the devil is real. I figure the best way to get
away from him is serve a mission.”
The bishop put a finger on his chin and gave me a puzzled look. “That’s
an interesting way to put it. Usually people say they want to serve Heavenly
Father.”
“That too, of course.”
“I like to think of serving a mission as paying tithing on your life. The
Lord’s given you twenty years, and now you’re giving him two years back.”
“I can see that.”
“We hear people say their mission was the best two years of their life. But
that implies everything is downhill from then on out. It’s true you’ll probably
never be closer to the Holy Ghost than on your mission. But I prefer to say
it’s the best two years for your life.”
I told him I had some sins to confess.
“Did you murder anybody?”
“No.”
“Consent to or help pay for an abortion?”
“No.” I felt a twinge of guilt for never having used protection. If Pamela
had gotten pregnant, I didn’t know for sure that we wouldn’t have sought an
abortion.
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“Then we can work through it.” The bishop swiveled in his chair, opened
a file drawer, and pulled out a missionary application.
I started out by telling him about shoplifting the Dungeons & Dragons
manuals five or six years earlier. I worried he might suggest I make restitution
to the store, but he did not. Then I gave him the laundry list of my Word of
Wisdom infractions.
“Do you feel like you’re free of all addictions?” he asked.
“Yes, it’s been several weeks.”
“We’ll see how you do for another month or two. Now let’s talk about
chastity.”
I shifted my position and looked over at the picture of the First Presidency
on the wall. Then I confessed that I’d fornicated with my girlfriend.
“How many times?”
I thought for a moment. “I lost count.”
“And this was all with the same partner?”
“Except for one time with one other person.”
“When was the last time it happened?”
“About three months ago.”
When he looked into my eyes to discern if I was leaving out anything,
I didn’t flinch away.
“And how do you feel about these sins?”
“Bad.”
He folded his hands on the desktop and blinked at me.
“I know sex is bad. Before marriage, I mean.”
“Joseph Smith told us that sexual impurity would be the most challenging sin for the Latter-day Saints. Tell me, why do you think fornication is
so bad?”
“Because it’s breaking a commandment.”
“Yes, but why is it a commandment?”
I thought for a moment. “Because people can get pregnant or pick up a
disease?”
“Because you’re messing with someone else’s possible entry into mortality.
Getting someone started on the wrong foot could have eternal consequences.
If you even risk bringing someone here under the wrong circumstances,
you’re in deep sin.”
The bishop reached for a jar of breath mints on the corner of his desk.
After he popped one into his mouth, he offered me one. I shook my head.
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He picked up his pen and started filling out the missionary application. “Be
sure to keep up your daily prayer and scripture study,” he said. “You might
consider some extra fasting, maybe weekly for a while. I want to see you
every Tuesday night. If everything keeps going well and the stake president
agrees, we’ll send in your papers in another few months.”
The bishop set down his pen and smiled at me. “Why don’t you go ahead
and get your physical. And you’ll need to take the language proficiency test.
Have you had your wisdom teeth out yet?”
S   S   S

Later that evening, when Pamela and I told her parents that I’d applied for
a mission, they got mad at us for teasing them. When they finally realized I
was serious, her mom burst into tears and her dad fell to his knees.
“This feels pretty good,” Pamela said the following Sunday, after we’d
attended a student congregation near the University of Utah. “I even saw a
guy with an earring.”
I was better about studying the scriptures, but Pamela was better about
volunteering for service projects. She insisted we listen only to classical music,
and I walked out of movies that had too much sex or profanity. Pamela got
rid of her short-shorts and halter-tops, removed her extra earrings, softened
her hairstyle, and bought a floral-print dress for church. I threw out my old
D&D manuals and all my record albums—and if I’d known my sister Stacey
was going to scavenge them for her boyfriend, I would have burned them.
When I tried to talk my family into swearing off television so we could all
become less worldly and more spiritual, Pamela said I was reminding her too
much of her dad.
One evening I asked her if she really believed in Mormonism.
“It’s better than I remembered,” she said. “I like praying. I only throw up
when my parents stress me out. I don’t have any reason not to believe it. But
I wouldn’t say I know it’s true, like everybody else does.”
Looking into her crinkly eyes, I wanted to ask her how many sex partners
she’d had during her life. Ten? Twenty? Whether or not the Church was
everything it claimed to be, I knew I didn’t want a future with Pamela unless
she was committed to a moral code like Mormonism. While I served a mission, she would have to develop her own faith.
“I wish you could just stay home and marry me,” Pamela said.
“I do too, but a commandment is a commandment. If I’m going to be
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Mormon, I have to go on a mission.”
“Maybe I’ll serve one too.”
I looked at her with alarm. “That would mean we couldn’t get married for
four more years.”
“Okay,” she said, smiling. “I’ll serve my mission with you, when we’re
retired.”

63

Mark Bennion

Dar al Luz
It is not the beginning,
she thinks before rolling up
out of bed without inhaling too quickly
so pressure won’t break the water in her stomach,
it’s not the morning kicks
pushing after nine months of punishing.
She’s thought of this, off and on,
since those teenage years
when she received a leather book,
and two sisters in navy skirts shared the words—
Otherworldly, antemortal—
that swung in the evening patter,
lighting up their angled grins.
But the life swells within,
and she focuses all knee-bending efforts,
these weeks, waiting
in the doctor’s office, waiting for the end
of bladder scrunching
as she’s wheeled down the hall,
lifted onto one of the hospital beds.
She writhes in the stiff sheets,
turns with a roar
to the half-smile on the doctor’s face.

There she goes,
wiping her hands, tugging her husband’s cheek
while at once, her mind funnels into forgotten chambers
to the moment when she feels
the base of a vast mountain,
and below it a valley wallows in starlight.
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Bennion  S  Dar al Luz

Close as it looms,
she know that now
this fetus has been pure maple
for years on top of that mountain
in fog and sleet, having
come from the edge of rocks
where hosts of the unborn alight
and the sugar that shapes him
is thicker than a few drops,
thicker than trees’ gum,
and he’s waited there, collecting sticks,
laughing with travelers from the paved streets
until one day the jokes are dull enough
to leave behind and forget.
Narrow as the chamber is,
she looks to him,
seizes on the seconds of breaking
and this time the cramps in her back
shoot up. It is spinal death,
the joints and muscles she’s known all her life

going out
to the pulse and throttle, the idea
her body slid down the mountain,
swam from the creeks, from the gold
below the grass and dirt she’s still finding ways
to reconcile with.
He drops
and spreads, rubs raw the hunkering walls,
dives into the river,
makes out a message in holler and claws

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as if his sounds could carry new language
to her mind, and the mountain is close
to the most dangerous and beautiful thing
she’s ever heard of. Then she thinks
and barely sees that the sun is rising
above that mountain, where others
may care to go with her or abandon her,
and thinking, as she does,
that the time may never come again
for this strain of light, and wind rushes
like a train in her gut, she grabs the bedrail,
tries to open the latch on the gate, then climbs
and descends with her son’s new face.
Hospital lights shine with more power
than they possess and keep flickering back
the divide, the cliffs, the trees.

66

Brian Pew

The Sound of Salvation
I

Children on the bus to Cuzco
rattle—clang their voices
against each other
practicing adult-like love.
They are bulbs in wet earth
ready to climb green.
They will burst pink
like open mouths.
Their music somersaults
the isle of the bus as it hauls
through the grave desert.
Llamas hide in their colors:
brown like the hills,
grass starved of life,
skin, the color of the boy
who tends the herd and listens
to the desert, hills, and highway
II

In the warm dark air
the bus coasts over cobblestones,
sways around the angles of the city
and lands in the wet estación cuzco.
The rain drums softly
as several men wait for our bus.
The doors will open and the men
will yell for their pay “hospedaje,
tres noches cien soles.”
And our moist bodies—aching,
will surrender to the rain and the men.
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We will get into their cars
and warm hotels. Shared bathrooms,
creaking doorways and dry wooden floors
will become ours.
But for now it is quiet;
the children have stopped singing and sleep.
The first voice says “Bienvenidos a Cuzco.”
III

City of lies and old walls painted new colors.
Here, there is no home, and even the dirt
and rooftop views are borrowed,
thin air, wheezing climb.
In the market by the railroad,
where fowl, dead and alive, are sold,
a baker with his breads and chocolates
prays to God he will sell something.
A soothsayer hangs dry
llama fetuses to avoid evil.
Here at the market, families
have lunch on Sunday, and women
sit high above their fruit,
perched like statues.
The men at the train station across the street
lie to keep tourists worried.
Macchu Picchu is unreachable except by train,
the impossible tickets scattered in lies.
The rails are veins in the desert mountains
chugging to the heart.
At the peak
God waits in his temple above a river
and the rest of the living world.
IV

The sun, like a restless child, stirs
behind the hills as the train warms.
Night approaches morning
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with fists of dust
and the smell of burning leaves.
The first-class car
and the second-class seats
heavy with passengers,
vibrate—restless dreams
of the lost Inca city.
By bus, one can beat the train
to its first and second stops
Tarabamba and Ollantaytambo.
The desperate find tickets
to the third stop, Aguas Calientes
the city of Macchu Picchu.
Dogs and women in pleated skirts,
together, sift through garbage
as we catch the bus on time.
V

Ollantaytambo is a kind city.
Between trains the streets are quiet,
El Rio Urubamba is the only voice
of life on the desert mountain climb.
And when the train comes, (and the busses,
and the passengers, and the vans),
the river chokes
and the yellow mountains
suffocate to brown.
Tight like one body,
hundreds of passengers
press the train yard gates.
We snake through the helpless
and find a woman who knows a man
with tickets. We buy them and travel as
Isabela Soarez and Maria Inez.
We are nervous as they would be,
excited—two ladies on a journey.

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VI

A boy, not quite man,
stands in the ruins as if he built them.
Dressed like the Inca who lived here
he is colorful, crisp, full of fringe.
I catch him on camera with a cell phone,
he is sad and knows nothing of this place.
Llamas stand like guards on the grass.
We feel life in the homes
and touch the perfect temple walls.
We overhear a tour guide explaining
that the Inca brought seashells
from the Galapagos Islands,
packed them tightly over water,
carried them south through the Andes
and up over a hidden trail
until finally reaching Macchu Picchu
where they were crushed into powder
and sprinkled on the temple
until it shone white.
A purity lost in the mountains
and hundreds of years.
In pure water moving systematically through
sixteen ceremonial baths we meet God,
as he trickles to the bottom of the earth.
We hear the sound of that God,
the sound of salvation.

70

In the Presence of God:
A Spiritual Autobiography
Cheryl Pace
I have lived alone in good company. I imagine that my good
company can violate my privacy and know me too well—that
the challenge is to be alone. So I go to great lengths to create a little privacy,
to keep a few secrets, and I respond to invasions of my privacy with selfrighteous indignation. My loved ones seem to imagine the same things as I, to
go to great lengths to keep their little secrets and to respond to invasion with
the same self-righteous indignations. I think we play out these little dramas
to protect ourselves. If we imagine we can be invaded, we need never know
that we are alone, that the isolation of skin might be our only true birthright.
Maybe we should be so lucky that we could invaded by another, be known by
another. Maybe we should be so lucky. Or maybe it is best that our only real
protection from isolation is our God, whatever we imagine that to be.
Curious creatures that we are, we harbor our secrets and then pound our
way to the doors of our clairvoyants, asking them to do nothing less than to
see right through us. But they never do. It doesn’t seem to be within the laws
of creation to do so. But even in the face of repetitious failure, we continue to
knock on their doors, lusting after a reflection of ourselves, to know o­ urselves.
Or maybe as we beat on the doors of our clairvoyants, we are not in search
of ourselves, but of God, an end to our loneliness. Perhaps what appears to
be lust is not lust at all, but evidence that we suspect that we must somehow go through ourselves as living portals to God. It’s a nice thought. Our
little lives as open doors, and death only closing them behind us as we pass
through to a waiting God. We could find comfort in that thought, I think,
if we could imagine ourselves in control of the door.
It is not such a nice thought to imagine that we turn to these clairvoyants for nothing more than control of the door, control over life and death,
control over when, how and whether we enter God’s presence and therefore,
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certainty about what God is.
God, n. the creator

I
It is 1954, and I am four-years-old. I can see my father. It is very, very quiet.
I feel enveloped by silence, just the way I do when it snows, when the out
of doors seems to swallow all the ordinary sounds of our neighborhood, but
for the rhythmic scrape of shovels. Daddy is holding my body over the bathtub and pounding on the back of my limp form. He seems calm and I feel
calm, but this is clearly another one of my emergencies, because this is how
my daddy, 31-year-old Frank Nelson Daley, handles himself in my emergencies—head on. Hands on. It is odd to see the top of his head, and to see
myself from the outside. This oddity is perhaps why, years and years later,
the moment will have become a memory—one of the several meaningful
seconds that define who I have become and may not want to have become.
Suddenly, there is sound—a distant siren. The last thing I remember is the
room going dark, and something cold against the inside of my cheek.
I wake up in a crib in the corridor of Boston Children’s over-crowded
hospital. I will be in the corridor for the duration of my stay. I am part of
the early years of the post WWII baby boom, and Boston Children’s Hospital
hasn’t caught up with demand. My crib is half covered by a clear oxygen tent,
and someone is pouring ice into a tank at the back of the crib. It is very cold,
and I am very, very upset, which in turn upsets a large woman named Nurse
Davis. Nurse Davis and I will be here together for the next month, and she
will not be sorry to see me go. She does not like children who get upset, and
I do not like being cold. I will not remember her face because I will never
quite look up enough to see it. I will remember for all of my life, however,
the sight of her name tag on her white uniform through the bars of the crib.
Nurse Davis. I do not tell her about the extra people in the children’s ward,
the ones she does not seem to see.
We, the children in that ward, talk amongst ourselves and share nursery
songs as well as our experiences with visitors and staff, blood and breathing tubes, death and the other people that regular grownups don’t seem to
see. We experience these things, but like soldiers at war who sense that they
will have to leave most of their experiences behind on the battlefield, we
­understand that we will have to leave our hospital experience behind. There
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is no place in peacetime for the memories of the once enlisted. Most particularly, there will be no place in our peacetime lives for the experience of the
other people, nor the fact that little children die. Babies though we are, we
know that these are facts to be kept distant from peacetime life.
In peacetime, therefore, I become a very talkative child who has learned
to leave a great deal unsaid. The unsaid is understood by something unseen,
something other, something not me and ever reassuring. I assume that it is
what everyone is discussing when they use the word God, so I call the unseen
presence God. I have learned to rely completely on the sense that God is near
and accessible, like Mommy in the kitchen. Mommy never goes anywhere.
God never goes anywhere. Mommy is always afraid. But God is never afraid,
and I am finally free to focus on things other than the fact that there are other
kinds of people, and the true, true thing that sometimes little children die,
that they can die right next to Mommy, right in the middle of a ­conversation.
When I leave Boston Children’s Hospital to return to our home in rural
Maine, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy are still real, and
all the relatives I know are still alive. Everyone has a house and I can go in
and out of all the houses, because the friendly people know me. They don’t
have TVs. We have a TV. Inside the TV is a puppet named Howdy Doody,
and a club called the Mickey Mouse Club. There is a Mousketeer with my
name. My family has a new, red convertible and there are no such things as
seat belts. We sit in the open air and the wind blows on us and we go to
Bubbling Brook where they serve ice cream cones. We skate on the ice at
Rocky Woods. Everyone in the world looks exactly like us, and everyone’s
life is exactly like ours. The world is very, very fair except that a few families
have more kids than we do.
They have more kids, but we have more houses. In the summer we live on
an island. When it rains, it rains hard and loud. There are foghorns. We light
the oil stove, put together puzzles and make paper dolls. We play Parcheesi.
We drink Zarex and eat popcorn every night. Everyone picks wild blueberries, and I know how to make them into pancakes. Our lives are exactly like
everyone else’s here, too, except that almost everyone here is a Catholic. The
Catholic Church has a lot of kids in it and is therefore a lot more fun than
ours, but other than the fact that we are superior—and therefore lonely—
Protestants, we have a pretty good life.
Grandmother Bonnello has seven sisters, and they have families, and those
families are cousins somehow. Mommy and I pray for cousins at night. At
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the end of the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to bless all the key players in my
young life—Mommy, Daddy, my sister Diane Elizabeth, and the grandmas.
Great Grandma Brunt and Great Grandpa Lewis. Then we sweep through
the rest of meaningful humanity—my “aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
Amen.” We are not concerned with anyone foreign, the sick, the infirm or
the poor. We don’t know any of those.
For now, childhood is the most blessed gift my parents will ever give
me. I swing on a metal swing in a paradise of family, friends, holidays, and
sandboxes. Uncle Nelson and Aunt Mary live one street over in Paradise,
and have a wooden wheelbarrow. There is a doll collection in a glass cabinet
at the top of their stairs. We eat boiled eggs cupped in ceramic chickens at
Aunt Mary’s house, and we put butter on them. We drink tea and eat little
cakes at four o’clock at a small table in the living room, not in the kitchen,
not even in the dining room. Aunt Mary’s tea cakes are beautiful. They are
pink frosted, and have little silver pearls on them. They are dry and tasteless,
and the little pearls are bitter. I will love remembering them when I am a
great-aunt myself. I will come to believe that the first lesson learned from
peacetime in Paradise was that to abide by beauty and tradition makes sweet
memories out of bitter cakes.
The beauty and tradition of peacetime in Paradise will begin to disintegrate when I am only eight, but the lessons learned there will sustain me
forever. Peacetime, especially for children, has more staying power than war.
There’s no sustenance in battle, just the lessons of war. There will never be
sustenance in battle. That is the first lesson of war, I think—one must end
the battle to feed the soul. There’s no other way.

II
It is 1976. I am twenty-six-years old, married and I have a four-year-old
daughter named Julianne Ruth Sabula. I am in a counseling session at a pastoral counseling center. My friend has sent me there because I am so unhappy.
I have told him about the unhappiness in my marriage. I have not told him
about memories that defy my sense of things.
“Do you know what a clairvoyant is?” asks a quiet, bearded counselor. I do
not. He explains.
Clairvoyant, n. person who is said to possess the supposed power of seeing
absent persons, things, or events.
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I don’t see absent things, I imagine them. I think he is crazier than me, and
I think I won’t be coming back. He would have us talk about it longer, but
the room looks to me as though it is pulling away like a train into a tunnel.
When I talk to him, the imagined sight goes away. I listen for my father’s
voice. I look at my arm resting on my lap, but I imagine my father’s arm. He
is clutching it with the opposite hand. Talking is out of the question. I need
to leave. I need to leave right now to find Frank Nelson Daley.
I drive to Rhode Island Hospital and find my mother and sister in ICU.
My mother is catatonic, and my sister is crying. A doctor explains the situation to me, and tells me that my father wants to see me. I think he must
mean my sister. Dad and I are not close anymore. We have not been close
for years. “Aren’t you Cheryl?” the doctor asks.
My father is lying in a hospital bed, and he appears more shaken than I
have ever seen him. This seems to be the kind of emergency he can’t meet
head on, an emergency of his very own. I don’t know what to do or say. We
do not look at each other. “I thought I was immortal,” he says at last. I tell
him I know, but actually, I’m completely surprised. “No, really,” he pleads,
“I really did.” There is an awkward silence before he asks me entirely without
emotion whether he is going to die. It seems like the most natural thing in
the world that he should ask, and not at all strange to answer. “No, dear, not
this time,” I tell him. “This will happen again?” he asks me. “Three more
times. You won’t learn much from this one,” is the answer. “How long have I
got?” he asks. I tell him about twenty years, and the conversation is over, not
to be continued. We will not be any different with each other than we have
been for years. I will never know why he asked me the things he did, and I
will never know why I was so audacious as to answer.
Audacious, adj. very daring or bold; impudent; insolent.

III
I cannot tell my story without telling my version of the stories of so many
others. I suspect that a single narrator who presumes to expose the lives of
others can only author fiction. Therefore, in the interest of non-fiction, and
in deference to the demands of my conscience, I ask you to take my word
about a few things, entirely without the supporting evidence of details or the
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names of potentially corroborating witnesses.
Between the ages of 26 and 45, everything I take for granted collapses.
Everything I imagine cannot possibly happen to me or to the people I love
happens. Systems fall. The legal system becomes for me a bad joke or worse, a
winner-take-all game with little or nothing to do with justice. The social service system is an even bigger joke than the legal system. It has little or nothing to do with compassion, and doesn’t even posses the good sense to play to
win. People—even those you imagine you know—are capable of anything in
the interest of self-preservation. In the interest of self-image preservation.
I sit at my kitchen table during one of those days in one of those years,
and I admit to the air around me that I am finally defeated. I feel as I imagine
Frank felt when he lay in the hospital bed swearing that he had believed in
his own immortality. Just as it must have been for him, it seems to me there
is nothing at all left of who I have always imagined I am, or what I have
imagined exists around me. I wonder if I will get out of my chair. I wonder
what will motivate me to do so. I am not upset at all. I am lifeless. I do not
know where on earth my only child is.
My house is surrounded by 80-foot pines. It is always dark. This day is
dark. The presence that never goes anywhere is near, and I speak out loud
to it for the first time in my life. I don’t give a damn who thinks I am crazy.
I don’t give a damn if I am crazy. I ask God why he doesn’t just collapse along
with everything else. I want to know the point of my religious faith staying
intact. It doesn’t seem to matter at all, and yet it does not die. This thing. This
my-whole-life thing. The irony doesn’t escape me, not even then, that while
most of the people I know are looking for God, I can’t seem to get rid of Him.
What a bad joke. I am a bad joke, and so are my tribulations. I would laugh
if I were not inert.
Inert, adj. destitute of the power of movement or of active resistance.
I don’t know how long I sit there. I know it seems light at some point.
Very light, as though the sun is streaming through the windows. I imagine a
conversation with light. I play both parts. I don’t think I actually hear anything, but I dialogue aloud with that which I do not hear. I imagine being
told that this moment is leading to a kind of crucifixion, and that it will not
be over until Easter. I understand that I am being asked to let everything I
have ever believed die and then to live in an unknown wilderness of grief
until Easter. I am assured it is but another walk through the valley of the
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shadow of death, and that on the other side, I will be better prepared for real
death, less afraid of anything for the rest of my life. I imagine saying thank
you. Easter is six months away. I get out of my chair and make dinner.

IV
It is 1984. My mother wants me to go to an art seminar with her. I make the
excuse that I can’t afford it, and she offers to pay for us both. She is a respectable talent, like her father before her and his father before him.
I have driven to her home and we are standing in her basement. Having
run out of display space, she has stacked rows of her paintings against the
basement walls. I pull out two of my favorites and announce that I want
them. I am the only family member who has none of her work. Even her
friends and mere acquaintances have some. She has trapped me into this
damn seminar, and I am trapping her into giving me some of her art, which
is to say, some of her self. She can’t think of a reason to say no. What I want
is just rotting in the basement anyway. She hands over her paintings unhappily, and I have never felt so victorious.
For the next week, we paint with a group of about a dozen other artists,
and an antagonist named Mother becomes a woman named Mabel. Capable,
enthusiastic. We sometimes forget to eat, and almost always paint through
the night right into the next morning.
I am seeing Mom when she is not frightened, but I will not see her that
way again. We will not be together again in a setting where she can present
herself as the woman she was meant to be, or perhaps the woman she is but
cannot show her children.
Almost exclusively, my mother paints beautiful, perfect landscapes, landscapes so real that one might walk into them if people were welcome on her
canvases. When my father dies, I will be surprised to discover wild geometric
designs, water-damaged and in disarray on the floor of a bathroom closet.
I will ask my mother about them, why she has never hung any of them up.
She will explain that my father did not like modern art. She will confess that
she has never cared for realism.
Realism, n. (in art or literature) representation of things as they actually
appear in nature or real life; fidelity to fact.

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V
It is August, 1996, and I have been living in Brooklyn, NY for eleven months.
My mother is on the phone. She is on Peaks Island, and Dad has had a stroke.
She can’t seem to make any sense. She is emotional and incoherent. I don’t
know what to do but to meet it head on. Hands on. I resent it, though.
Things have not much improved for me, and God and I are on strained terms.
I don’t give a damn what God expects of me at the moment. I don’t give a
damn if there is a hell and that’s where I am headed.
Hell, n. abode of the dead or of departed spirits;
Which makes it different from Heaven and Earth how?
abode of evil spirits; infernal regions, any place of wickedness; state of anguish,
misery, wickedness or torment; place where refuse is gathered; evil spirits collectively; power of evil spirits.
Oh.
I tell my mother to pack the car and to drive with my father to my sister’s
home in Rhode Island. I will meet them there and send them home by plane.
Then I will drive their car to Florida. I tell her to pack nothing but clothes
in the suitcases that will be checked baggage. I tell her to take her money,
her checkbook, medications, and anything else important onto the plane
with her.
A month later I meet my parents in RI. I check their luggage and discover
that my mother has packed $16,000, her checkbook and all my father’s
medications into the suitcase that will be her checked baggage, and then she
has placed three things in her purse to take on the plane: a little bag of pink
plastic curlers, a jar of Metamucil, and some lifesavers.
Metaphorically speaking, it is clear to me that my mom, Mabel Alice
Bonnello, is not in the kitchen anymore. Not even the scared mom I know I
can’t rely upon, but have often tried to rely upon anyway. It’s too late to get
to know her, too late to resolve anything unresolved. It is never too late to
forgive, but I know so little about forgiveness. I have never really understood
it, and I don’t even know what I would be forgiving this woman for who is
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my mother. What crimes has she committed? Does being who she is count
as criminal activity because it disappoints me?
What do I want from what is left of Mabel Alice Bonnello? Do I want
approval, even now? I’m a grandmother, for heaven’s sake. And who can give
believable approval or disapproval anyway? Who knows anyone well enough?
If we are called upon to approve or disapprove, what else can we do but give
approval to a reflection of ourselves, to the known and familiar? What else
can we do but withhold approval from that which is different? I think I must
be different. I seem to make even my own family uncomfortable. I hate them
for their discomfort. I hate myself as probable cause.
While I unpack $16,000 from a small suitcase, I look at these two elderly
people who are my mother and father. For the first time, I understand that
I will soon lose them. The anticipated loss presents itself as an eleventh-hour
opportunity to learn the value of forgiveness. It is not an opportunity I want.
I cannot forgive the parents who find it hard to love me. If I do, I imagine I
will be faced with the too-formidable task of forgiving myself for being hard
to love.
I am helping my parents get ready to go to the airport. Mabel turns her
face to me like an obedient child and waits for me to wash it. That is the
exact moment when forgiveness yields to me her sacred fruit—a sudden and
unconditional love. I love Mabel Alice. I love myself as a daughter who loves
her mother. What am I to do with this love?
Mom shows me how to put two little pink curlers in her hair. She explains
how they make all the difference in how she looks. She is anxious and wrings
her hands almost continuously. She seems to understand that my father is
dying. She has been married to him for 54 years and he has been taking care
of her for nearly 60. She was a schoolgirl out walking with her father when a
heart attack dropped him at her feet, and Frank Nelson Daley took up stride
beside her, her new and life-long protector.
Protector, n. one that protects; one who rules a kingdom while the sovereign
is under age.
My sovereign mother has never grown up. She is a little girl version of
Peter Pan who will refuse to leave Neverland to the very end, even as she
takes her last, protected breath. Her last protector will be morphine.
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Frank’s last protector is God. A presence is with him, and I am with him.
He is calm and unafraid. My mother, my father, and I have been in Florida
together for three months. I arrived with the car and couldn’t bring myself
to leave them. Now it is Christmas Eve, and I tell Frank I need to go to Utah
to see my family, that I will see him again in two days. “No, you won’t,” he
says gently. “No, I won’t.” I affirm. “Goodbye, Diane.” He pauses. “Oh, I’m
sorry. I know who you are. I know you aren’t Diane,” he assures me. The
daughter he understands, adores, and admires isn’t here. The wrong daughter
is at hand. He wants to see the other one, one last time. The man who seldom
asks for anything wishes I was Diane Elizabeth Johnson, and for love of him
in this moment, so do I.
Perhaps the first lesson of death is that we do not choose when to close
the door and leave each other’s presence to stand in God’s. We do not choose,
and so there are no deathbed reconciliations of the sort we so love in movies.
We die together as we have lived together, and in my experience, we have
lived together far more successfully than we imagine. So the last words to
pass between my father and me are, “I know you aren’t Diane.”
Frank Nelson Daley, 2 April 1923–5 January 1997

VI
In October, 2002, my husband, David George Pace, and I will have lived in
New York for seven years, through the deaths of both my parents, my dear
friend, Barbara Johnston, and my cherished uncle, Arthur M. Livingstone.
We will have survived the near death of the daughter we share, the falling of
the World Trade Center, and the complete failure of our marriage.
But for now it is only May, 1999 and David is asking me for a divorce. “I
hate who I have become with you,” he tells me. But I can’t sense hatred in
the air. I sense fear, and then something else altogether more upsetting than
hate. I sense indifference. David is indifferent to me. What’s more, I accept—
just like that and as a matter of course—that he has not ever felt much of
anything else. “Why did you marry me?” I ask. “You were the only person
I knew who was strong enough to stand between me and my family,” he
answers.
I stand defenseless in the presence of God. This emotionless, oh-so-muchyounger man I claim to love has been suffering without respite, and having
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failed to stop the bleeding of his invisible wounds, I have come to blame him
for his condition. I have left him to suffer alone, and to support my happiness while he does. Suffering has now become not less than mortal danger
on my watch. David is indifferent not only to my life, but to his own. I can’t
imagine there is anything I could ever have done about it. The whole of it has
never been about me. This crisis is about what it has always been about—the
abominable Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and its insidious
domination over David’s family and friends of childhood. I am as sure of that
as I am sure of anything in the world.
Sufferer, n. one who suffers, esp. by pain, damage, loss, etc.; one who permits
or allows.
From 1991 to 1995, we lived in Utah. In 1995, David decided he needed
to escape the dark, prejudicial state of being that was the beating heart of
Mormon society in his experience. He was tired of their smugness, tired of
their deceit, their intolerance, their disdain of his non-Mormon life with
his non-Mormon wife. So, we left his Church towers behind us, packed
up his rage, and carried it to New York City. The Church wasn’t here, but
the haunting hatred was. So, David resigned his membership, returned
his diploma to BYU, and found a home in my parish. But while his body
trooped to Episcopalian masses, his soul continued to rage at all things
Mormon. I should have noticed there were no things Mormon in our immediate vicinity but David himself.
How could a discussion about divorce be happening? Where is the God
of imaginable visions I have always relied upon?
Imaginable, adj. able to be imagined.
What can I remember?

VII
It is early in our marriage. We have been married months not years, and
already I am raging alongside my husband. I am proud to support him, too
proud to consider what I am supporting. Is there ever a time to take up arms
alongside obsessive hatred? Can healing ever come from joining the front
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lines battle? Has it been so long that I have forgotten the first lesson of war?
End the battle to feed the soul. There’s no other way.
But how? I am becoming uncomfortable as comrade in arms, and David
ever more torn by it. While I hate for him the family, the friends, the culture, and the faith that he can never seem to hate quite enough, he bounces
back and forth between the world of his youth and the world of our marriage. I can’t keep up with his contradictions, and my purpose, it seems, is
to express, justify and—incident by incident—to take the fall for his rage.
I think I am a comrade at arms, but I have simply become the new object
of what seems to be insatiable rage. By the time 1998 rolls around, David
accuses me of anti-Mormonism.
With that, I withdraw from the battle. I leave David to go home alone.
I distance myself from his family gatherings using as my excuse the care of
my widowed and failing mother. I think I am bringing peace, but I am fast
metamorphosing into an object of new disdain. By December 1999, David
accuses me of indifference to the Mormon problem, to his family and to him.

VIII
It is April, 1999, and David has just asked for a divorce. The grounds?
Irreconcilable indifference. To life itself, I think.
I go in search of God in the kitchen. When he shows up, all I can say is,
“It’s about time.” It is easy to be awed by that which seems to be God, but it
is not always easy to feel respect. I play both sides of yet another conversation
with air. I tell God I need inspiration. He tells me I only need love. I call God
an idiot.
The following morning, I look over the financial condition of my marriage and determine that, given the increased value of our apartment and
some fortunate investments, I am in a position to leave David. In point of
fact, my position will improve if I do. When I explain that to David, he
wants to know if I am leaving him. I’m not. That isn’t it at all. I think I’m
about to do something very hard, and I just want to make sure it is a real
choice I am making, and not one of those imagined choices one makes
knowing full well there’s really no choice at all.
I tell David that far from leaving him, I will contest a divorce. I tell him
what I will say, and he knows that I am likely to win. I tell him I understand
our marriage exists in name only, but that while he sorts out his distress,
I want him to keep the logistics of his life in place. Keep his job, remain
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in our home. I promise only to expect him to support me as he always has,
to refrain from bringing any third parties into our little disaster, to retain
the services of a counselor, and to go to church. I promise to live up to my
responsibilities as his wife. I ask David to put his own life together for his
own sake and to come to me in one year to ask for a divorce again. I promise
him a fair and civil split.
Then I buy books, and more books. I give full-time working hours to
prayer and to my education. I will understand this thing—this Mormonism
that has injured my husband, and brought my marriage to ashes. I will know
it better than it knows itself. I will learn to love the monster. If I cannot learn
to love Mormonism, then how can I expect to love a son of Mormonism?
My books pile up around a chair in my kitchen, my prayers float out the
window with a steady stream of cigarette smoke. I read and pray, read and
pray. But nothing is wholly achieved in so much isolation, and in my most
desperate moment, I cannot imagine whom to solicit. When the phone rings
next, the voice on the other end is that of the eldest of my Mormon sisters,
Deborah Pace Roghaar. A Mormon woman with her temple recommend in
one hand and six children in the other is about to become my lifeline, even
as my challenges pale in comparison to her own.
Before it is over, I will have ten more sisters. I will sense them through
one another. I will imagine their hands at the end of every desperate outward
reach in the dark. I will believe in the power of their prayers. While I learn
about the monster, I will rest in the imagined hand of God, and the imagined bosom of a Mormon family. I think the first lesson about God is that
he mixes things perfectly.
Mix, v.t. & i. put or throw together so as to form a united whole.

IX
Between April 1999 and October 2002, I find myself watching Mabel Alice
Bonnello grapple with the reality of death, all the while watching David
George Pace learn to grapple with the reality of life. One can only be
humbled and awed by these most basic expressions of the human condition.
There isn’t any more for me to say about it.
Mabel Alice Bonnello, 24 March 1922–8 October 2002
David George Pace, 23 June 1961–
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X
It is not October, 2002. It is only June. Mom is dying by sheer force of
will, David is living by sheer force of will, and perhaps also by sheer force
of will I have become certain, not that I know the right things about the
Mormon world, but that I feel the right things. I begin to challenge David’s
assumptions. I don’t think he can love himself if he hates his origins. David
seems to be both smarter and more articulate than me, so God figures I
need the home court advantage, and I can see the wisdom in that. Whatever
accusation David makes against the LDS church, I counter with a parallel
accusation against some other group or organization with which I am more
familiar and for which David seems to have undue respect. In short, I go
about normalizing, equalizing, and humanizing the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints. I go to battle not only against David’s arch-villains, but
his heroes. It is my intent not only to end the battle, but to level the battlefield between the Mormon and non-Mormon worlds as both David and I
imagine them to be.

XI
David is accustomed to being in control of the subject of Mormonism in our
household, and therefore, ours is only occasionally a civil encounter. And
as we celebrate our tenth anniversary together on October 27, 2002, David,
within whose hard-won, masculine way of love I have become entirely selfassured, accuses me of whitewashing the crimes and insidious motives of
“the corporate church.”
Corporate, adj. united in a body and acting as an individual
First too hostile, and then too indifferent, and now too kind. Clearly, the
matter of my relationship to David’s faith is one of some importance, and
there is no position from which David is not discounted. Hate the faith
and discount the beloved family and forces that have created him. Ignore
the faith and discount the family and forces that matter to him. Love the
faith and discount any reason for or meaning to his suffering. David is
caught between devils and angels. He does not seem to know that both are
part of creation. They simply must coexist. Nonetheless, he is smiling more,
and displaying a greater sense of ease in public situations. He has become
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a­ ffectionate, communicative, and seems to be, in January 2003, ready to go
home again.

XII
It is 2005. I am 55 years old, and David is 44. We are living in Salt Lake City,
and have been here for just over two years, in our first house together. We
have new furniture and two cats. We go skiing in the winter. We live across
from the largest park in the city and spitting distance from downtown. We
grow a garden. We address ourselves enthusiastically to Mormon issues and
civic causes.
David begins to work more and smile less. He is fast becoming a man torn
in two again, living in a city that by tacit force of habit, reinforces division at
every turn and from every quarter. He is responsible, reliable, a rock below
the surface of the water upon which our small family—mother, father, adult
daughter, 11-year-old grandson—builds its little life.
He is a responsible, reliable voice in the public forum. His first novel—
about growing up Mormon—takes first place in a competition sponsored
by the Utah Arts Council. His personal essay—about his ten Mormon sisters—takes first place in a competition sponsored by Writers at Work. And
his increasing lack of vitality is becoming positively palpable.
I wonder if we have made a mistake to come back to Utah. I have made
myself a woman without a country, in a sense. Never Mormon, and never
welcome in non-Mormon circles so long as I choose to identify with the
Mormons. But I have also found a place and a people that matter to me,
where I know what I have to give, and a generous community accepts.
Increasingly, I am more comfortable in Mormon than in non-Mormon
circles. Our needs are aligned, and a religious voice is an acceptable voice in
public discourse.
But David is beginning to look ill. And he isn’t an oddity. There is distress
and depression in abundance, it seems. There is something. There is something. There is something I have failed completely to understand about the
Mormon community. Too often, there seems to be a tacit fear and longing,
invisible wounds that never heal, and do fester.
“God?”
“Yes?”
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“Why don’t injured Mormons heal?”
“They think it is impossible to change their expectations.”

XIII
God and I are in the moment. We are without beginning, middle, or end.
The particulars of the moment seem so unimportant to me. The presence of
conversion seems to be everything, and the conversion experience is not so
unlike the breathing experience in that it seems to be on autopilot. Exactly
as my breathing keeps my body alive, continuous conversion keeps my spirit
alive. Exactly as one great breath at birth didn’t cover me for a lifetime, one
great revelatory conversion hasn’t either.
I breathe and convert, breathe and convert. It is happening unaware while
I pick up the groceries, and drop off the dry cleaning. In truth, it is happening in my every encounter with anyone or anything. I give no thought at all
to my breathing unless it is tested, like when I am forced to walk uphill after
a lost ski. Likewise, I don’t give a whole lot of thought to my conversion
until it is tested. I think of God in the face of sorrow, death, illness, when
the incomprehensible catastrophe happens, and most of all, in the midst of
my own sins. That is, when the power of life and habit trumps the power of
intent, and reminds me that I am not ever really in control.
Then I look for God in my kitchen. We are intimate and unafraid of one
another. I moan, complain, insult, and bargain. I enjoy waving my fists at
Heaven. I cry.
God’s response always feels like the same response. My conversation with
air tells me that life is as life should be. It is meaningful. It is the very fullness
of perfection. As I age to where dark situations are ever darker, the light of
revelation seems to grow brighter in proportion. The sustenance of peacetime
and wisdom hard-won in battle come together to testify to truth created by
God and held for safe-keeping in the human spirit.
It seems to me that the closer one gets to reality, to realistic expectations,
the closer one gets to one’s self, to one’s companions, and to God. Reality is
the sum of creation, I think, and only God knows all of creation. You and
I are left to believe in miracles. I never imagined there would be so many
miracles.
And I never imagined that my spiritual autobiography would be about
little more than going the distance day by day. All that I can swear to is that
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as I go the distance, I breathe and convert more easily. I’m not trying to create the good life, but to come to terms with good life. I have ceased trying to
create or become anything in my life in faith. I am trying to discover and
to appreciate creation. I look forward to knowing what the creator is, who
God is.
Meanwhile, I have come to trust God without reservation, if not to understand what God is. I have come to believe in perfect justice, if not to understand
why there is justice at all. I have come to believe in the goodness of all of
God’s creation, if not to understand its evil. Time has become as arbitrary as
New England weather, and I have learned to live among the quick and the
dead.

XIV
It is June 2005. I am devoted to too many people to name, and wonder at my
good fortune. I am awed by my husband, David George Pace. I am in love
with the mystery that is my daughter, Julianne Ruth Sabula. I am indebted
beyond measure to Eric Stephan Vaughan, who has become a man right
before my eyes and for the sake of my beloved. I rejoice in Josiah Sullivan,
my grandson.
We are a cobbled-together little family, not quite blood, not quite legal
and not quite forever, but a family nonetheless. Together, we are children at
play in the presence of a God who laughs, a God for whom nothing and no
one is too sacred to serve as a punch-line because everything and everyone is
presumed sacred.
Sacred, adj. inspired by God.

87

Stone Pillows
Deja Earley
The first time I walked through Bath, England, my friends wandered ahead while I stopped to examine the façade of an abbey.
On either side of its entry, sculpted angels climbed ladders to the
height of the church. I couldn’t forget them. No matter where I walked in
the city, I recalled the image of fourteen angels decked in dresses and wings
perched on rungs. Some looked down, conscious of their height, or coaxing
us to join the scramble to heaven. And some looked at the rung above—
determined, serious about getting to God.
Consider the story of Jacob’s ladder. In Genesis, Jacob stopped to sleep
for the night. He used stones for his pillow and had the dream of his life. A
ladder with angels ascending and descending, lead up to heaven and to God
who told Jacob what was in store for him—family as abundant as the dust
of the earth, and God’s friendship for the rest of his life. Not a bad bargain.
But when Jacob woke up, he was a little nervous, a little unsure of what had
happened, a little scared. It wasn’t every night he had dreams like that. So he
decided the place might be special, that it might have been his rock pillows
that made God speak. Jacob called the place Beth-al, which means house of
God, and used those pillows as an altar to say thanks. He poured oil, lit a
fire, and told God he’d be happy to have His constant camaraderie. I wonder
if Jacob thought of the angels and ladders when he looked up at the smoke
from his sacrifice. I wonder if he slept on rocks from then on, or at least when
he wanted God to speak to him. I wonder if it seemed strange to Jacob that
God spoke while he slept on stones or that God made promises while he
snored. But I like that God used a wild dream to illustrate a serious covenant.
The abbey sits in the center of Bath, next door to Roman Baths where
green water and ancient mythology still bubble up everywhere. I can’t help
but think that the religious men who built the abbey carved the ladder and
the angels because they were trying to reference the name of their city to
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Beth-al, instead of the Pagan Roman baths. Or at least to refer to both. Today,
Bath seems conscious and even proud of the mix of pagan and sacred.
While we stayed in Bath, my traveling friends found a random advertisement for “Abbey Mode.” The performance was to take place in the abbey on
a Sunday evening, and promised to be a “psychedelic adventure with lasers
and music and audience participation.” It was free, and sounded harmless, if
strange, so a few of us decided to go.
S   S   S

When we enter, the pews are scattered with white balloons—not yet chubby
with air, but looking like they are waiting for us. The rib vaulting and the
elaborate walls are lit up—a purple/blue glow in the chancel and red running
the length of the aisles.
A priest at the front waits for everyone to settle down. He explains that a
local composer has organized and arranged this performance, which will be
a commentary on the sacred and the common, the church indoors and the
church outdoors and how they blend and crash. He turns the time to the
composer.
The composer explains four elements of audience participation and we
practice our roles: twiddling our lips with our fingers, whistling from high to
low, releasing balloons to let them whiz around the abbey, and clapping four
times in a row. My friends and I laugh self-consciously as things get started.
Earlier that day, as we sat in Sacrament Meeting in our careful Sunday
clothes, we listened to reverent music and planned talks. It was the worship
we are used to, the worship most of us have participated in for our entire
lives. We have come to this performance because we think that because it is
in an abbey, we can trust it to be similar to our own form of spiritual expression. . I like the sound of the priest’s introduction, but I’m not sure what he
means. Sitting in the pew, I worry that “Abbey Mode” will not be so much
spiritual as sacrilegious.
The drums start low. Primitive. They set the rhythm for the choir and
orchestra who march down the aisle dressed in black with satin purple sashes
like beauty queens, and in silver glittered masks like jesters. They stand at
attention and in formation in front and down the aisles, holding their satin
yellow flags at an angle from their waists. I watch their facial expressions.
Some mouths are pulled into seriousness below their sparkly masks. Some
mouths twist in embarrassment, painfully aware of their costuming, their
role in this scattered melody. I like the shy ones best for looking as insecure
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as I feel. But I watch the solemn ones. I want to laugh at the show, but I also
want to understand it. I want to know how the church inside and the church
outside intersect.
The rector stands to offer A Prayer of Eternity, acknowledging the complexity of God and his creation. A swell of horns and organ, and vaulting
choir voices—powerful, sock-knocking harmony. And then silence. If I close
my eyes so I don’t see the sparkly jester masks, the performance is normal—
tones of glory, praise, sweet ascending sound. I feel it saturating me, vaulting
me, spreading to my toes. This is the feeling I hoped for, but didn’t expect to
get in such jumbled worship.
Timid bells ring over the chapel, peppered with bird noises, feet stomps,
lamb bleats, and a man on a microphone who is either moaning like a mad
man or mooing like a cow. The sounds end with a diminishing shhhhhhhh.
I’m not sure what to do with this shift, how to fit my sweet saturation with
lamb bleats and moans. I decide that God’s creations are not at odds with
His glory. Why shouldn’t there be a few lamb bleats mixed with melody?
The signal to twiddle. Apparently, I am an incompetent lip twiddler. I
switch back and forth between laughing too hard to do it, or laughing
because I managed to do it, and it tickles. For the last two of the ten seconds
I sit back and listen to 600 people buzzing their 1200 lips. Why buzz? I consider absurdity. I remember a friend once told me that his mission had been
one part spirituality, two parts madness. A smattering of sunny baptisms, but
more often drunk men falling at his feet swearing they’d seen Jesus.
The signal to whistle. I have accepted my incompetence at whistling since
I was fourteen, so I purse my lips like a pro, but I don't attempt a sound.
I imagine the others’ whistles rising to the vaulting and nose-diving to the
soles of our shoes. The participation, as silly as it is, appeals to me. I like
sending our sound to all corners of the cathedral, filling the space.
Projected bats on the vaulted ceiling. Or doves? Or ghosts? This must be
the laser show element. It is interrupted oddly by the pattern of the ribs so
they flash and distort, looking either more eerie or more holy, I can’t decide
which. I can hear everyone asking what they are, and I suspect confusion is
part of the point.
The din dies. We hold our balloons, ready. Breathe into them. And
release. This is my favorite moment. The white wings fly, a blessed riot up to
the doves in the vaulting, making crude sounds and making us laugh. One
gets trapped between mine and my neighbor’s shoulders, ricocheting like
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a ­pinball until it falls, deflated. And we all clap, led by the composer. Four
times. We file out with the jestered choir.
For me Abbey Mode has been the mind-tugging that delights. Abstract
elements in a concrete religious space have worked with my own sense of
the sacred. But mine isn’t the only reaction. My roommate in Bath, Janae,
detested it. We discuss it while we get ready for bed. She says it was absurd,
irreverent in the most unsettling way. And I can see her point. If anyone tried
to pull that in my church at home, I would be the first to hit the vaulted
ceiling. In another place or another mood, I might be equally offended. I
generally get nervous when people make unconventional statements on God
and religion. But from where I sat that night, the “Abbey Mode” statement
seemed sincere and interesting.
As Mormons, our emphasis is on individual spirituality, and creating a
quiet, reverent environment within which to receive personal revelation.
Church is not entertainment. There is no performance by a single leader, no
dancing, or wild singing, sheep sounds. The creation of the meeting is diffused through all the members of the ward. Everyone gets a chance at some
point to speak or teach. And when you are not speaking or teaching, ideally
your mind is engaging the subject at hand. One should be taking what others
are saying and applying it inside, allowing it to saturate. At times, when my
mind wanders too much to focus , or the speaker is uninteresting to me, this
model doesn’t work well. I sit through church for three hours and go home
with very little below the skin. But many days I actively engage what I hear.
When something is said at the pulpit, it resonates with me. Good days or
bad, I have no problem with my reverent church services. But there are times
when I crave more flash, more performance.
S   S   S

In high school I performed with the Utah All-State choir. Eight hundred of
us stood in the Tabernacle on Temple Square and sang for our parents. We
closed with a gospel spiritual, complete with dancing, and clapping, and
hallelujahing. When we left, my sister confessed she had slept through my
concert. All except the gospel number. She clapped and sang as we walked
back to the car, teased about writing President Hinckley to say she wanted all
church music transferred to the gospel genre. I secretly agreed with her, but
I was nervous that I did. I was embarrassed that the closing gospel spiritual
had been my favorite from the start. Shouldn’t I have adored the sweet reverent melodies? The ones I was used to? Why didn’t we have an occasional
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gospel number in church? Did God not like that music? I didn’t know what
to think; I watched out the window all the way home. The question lingered,
tugged on my mind, made me wonder about worship.
Later the same year, my AP Art History class took a trip to San Francisco.
On Sunday we had the option of traveling several hours to an LDS meeting,
or, for the sake of new experience, attending the famous Glyde Memorial
Church, whose parish consisted mostly of downtown San Francisco’s homeless. A few girls made the trek to the Mormon meetinghouse across town. All
my friends picked Glyde, and I was curious, so I decided to go.
Glyde meets in a huge auditorium with a stage in front. Our group of ten
students sat in the balcony. We were a little unsure about what we were in for,
and I kept wondering if I should have felt guilty for not opting for Sacrament
Meeting.
Most of the meeting was a concert—a church choir backed up by a rock
band, was set up on stage, and they sang some high-energy songs about
God’s love and our sin and the world’s tempting snares. While they sang and
the band played, a slide show was projected behind them. The woman who
was operating two slide machines stood near us, rocking out while she projected. Sometimes there was just one picture on the screen, while she covered
one lens with the palm of her hand. Other times she kept both hands poised
in front of the projectors and switched back and forth between two images.
Up on the screen a dancer flipped between moves, in sync with the woman’s
hand flips. It was clear by the way the slide woman handled the machines
that she took her job seriously. Her expertise with the slides seemed to be part
of her worship, her Sabbath gift to God.
Periodically throughout the meeting, someone went to the microphone
and said it was time to give someone a hug. That made me extra nervous. I
didn’t know that I wanted to hug the homeless. I tried to hug only within
our tight group, to stick to my friends. But we stuck out in that church, and
people in the balcony flocked to us at hug time. Although I admit I was
hunting for evidence that the people we were hugging were indeed homeless,
they seemed to be some of the kindest people I’ve ever hugged. They asked
me where I was from, and when I told them I was from Utah, their faces lit
up. “Oh, you’re Mormon! You all have the most beautiful choir! Someday we
hope to be as good as your choir.” You want to be like my choir? I thought.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is worlds away from Glyde Memorial, style
wise. It seemed odd that they were their role models. I left Glyde Memorial
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in love with its style, because of the sincerity of its worshippers, and the way
they made my soul feel like rocking out, shouting hallelujah with an electric
guitar backup.
S   S   S

In many ways, my experience at Glyde has nothing in common with my
experience at Bath Abbey. The purpose of the Glyde Memorial performance
leaned less toward art and more toward sincere worship. But I am thinking
about Glyde a lot after the Bath performance. I loved it for the same reason—for making me feel something I didn’t expect to feel. For broadening
my sense of the divine.
Once Janae and I establish we have different opinions, we don’t discuss
Abbey Mode. It seems too hard to explain why I loved the strangeness. I’d
have to take her back to Glyde or to All-State, and she still may not know
why I loved the lasers and balloons.
Just before we go to bed that night, Janae asks if we can sing a hymn. I
think it sounds contrived, silly. I wonder if she wants to do it to cleanse herself of Bath’s blaspheme. Even in my everyday spiritual life, I don’t make it
a habit of singing hymns before bed. But I decide it isn’t worth hurting her
feelings, so I do it. Turned over on our sides with the covers pulled up to our
chins, we sing Be Still, My Soul. I expect that without weird lighting on our
ceiling and the chance to release white balloons to the heavens, I won’t feel
God that night. I am surprised when our song touches me. I don’t expect
something that straightforward to reach me, given the kind of spiritual experience my mind is full of.
As I fall asleep, I think about ladders—about angels going up, coaxing
others. If I could have Jacob’s pillows tonight, maybe I would have a dream—
rocks and angels together. Perhaps of an angel tumbling up to heaven, carrying a balloon and twiddling her lips. Careful not to fall off the ladder, she
would command, “Shout hallelujah. Get to God.”

94

Milton Abbey
Kathryn Street Larson
I wasn’t thinking about God on a drizzling June day as I hiked
through a forest in Dorset. Our study abroad group had set out from
a green meadow in the quiet village of Shillingsworth for a fifteen mile
jaunt through the countryside. I was focused on a friend’s tragic love
story—one involving ice skates and the emergency room—and on keeping
the attention of the tall blonde boy who sent shivers down my spine whenever he looked at me. There was no time for musings or prayers, just gossip
and flirtation. When I slipped on mud, I laughed. When the boy’s eyes met
mine as he explained his thoughts on the absurdity of modern literature, I
swooned. Jumping over the sheep droppings littered across the path didn’t
prompt me to stop to think about the deeper side of life. Nor did the sight
of beech, oak or even holly trees that grew overhead. I was content to chat
and to watch my group of fellow hikers, strung out laughing and singing in
front of me. Then the forest ended, and Milton Abbey began.
In a silent valley surrounded by dense forest, Milton Abbey stands alone,
stoic and unyielding. When I stepped out of the forest I gasped, making
the boy next to me laugh. But there wasn’t anything else I could have done.
The land was flat and wide, with short grass that extended right up to the
edge of the forest. The grey stone church seemed to gather strength from its
superlative height, and loomed over the valley, presiding. It was as if God
Himself had descended from the heavens to place a giant signal in the path.
“Wayward travelers, pay attention!” it seemed to say. “Pay attention to me.”
I walked transfixed toward the building and away from the boy, feeling
myself shrink smaller and smaller with each step until I stood, tiny and
inconsequential, at the abbey’s wooden doors. About to enter, I looked down
at myself. Mud coated my pant legs. I was wearing three blue mismatched
shirts, all soaked from the rain, and I could feel how hair that had fallen out
of its braid now lay matted and wet down my cheeks.
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I had no huge spiritual problems in my life—no heinous sins to absolve—
but I felt that God had something to tell me. I looked up at the doors again,
inhaled, and smelled a mix of incense, fresh flowers and my own sweat. I
needed to go inside, but my sense of decorum was outraged. You go into
churches wearing a dress, it told me. You clean yourself to show your faithfulness. You don’t wear boots slathered in forest mud. There is no way God will
appreciate you soiling his house.
The Abbey was miles from a comb, let alone a shower and change of
clothes, and my group had to start on its way again soon. I sighed, and
looked around. It was now or never. I bent down to take my boots off.
S   S   S

I picture Moses having the same problem. When he was out in the wilderness
minding his own business and a bush randomly burst into fire, I’ll bet he
thought about the dirt on his robe. After all day out in the desert, of course
he was dirty. There would have been sand in his hair and dust between his
toes. Zipporah probably had a heart attack when she saw the state of his robe
as he came into their tent that night and told her about his chat with Elohim.
But when God’s voice called out from the flames, none of that mattered.
Moses didn’t run for a change of clothes, or lament that he didn’t have a
toothbrush or a razor. All he said was “Here am I.” Then he took off his shoes.
S   S   S

After leaning my muddy boots against the abbey’s giant stone doorframe, I
walked in—ready for God’s message. I was conscious of high sweeping arches
and intricately carved benches, but instead of finding redemption in the
stained glass windows as I had expected, I felt a distracting chill running up
through my damp socks that I couldn’t shake. It was bad enough that I was
walking though the church looking like a drowned rat, but now as I padded
down the knave’s stone floor, waiting for my revelation, I left a set of wet
footprints behind me. I was exquisitely aware of each step I took, each new
contact with smooth, condensed cold that fought its way into my bones.
I tried to look at the high altar, but I was sidetracked by a line from Gerard
Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur” repeating over and over in my head. “All
. . . wears man’s smell: the soil/ is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.”
Whatever Hopkins’ original intent for that line, there in an ancient stone
abbey with damp socks and muddy trousers, my feet could feel. God was
seeping up into my bones.
S   S   S
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Larson  S  Milton Abbey

I wonder now if Moses was aware of the ground that he was standing on.
Was it cold, forcing him to dig his toes into the sand; or hot enough to make
him hop from one foot to the other? I imagine that he was so distracted by
the voice of God telling him that his people were about to be delivered from
bondage, that he didn’t have time to really think about how the sand was
burning the soles of his feet. Yet, the Lord was sure to tell Moses to take his
shoes off in the first place. He said, “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for
the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Ex. 3:6). The Lord caught
Moses’ attention with fire—something fabulous and eye-catching—but I
imagine He didn’t have Moses’ respect and devotion until Moses took his
shoes off in deference to God’s holiness.
S   S   S

In the six weeks spent in England before my chance encounter with Milton
Abbey, I had been in plenty of crypts and cathedrals and vestries that were
really quite similar to it. I had walked through expansive naves and admired
blue stained glass windows and tiptoed across patterned thirteenth century
tile—all in respectable clean clothes and sensible shoes. My cleanliness,
though reportedly next to godliness, had done nothing for me—I remained
unmoved. But standing in Milton Abbey, wet and cold and dirty on a
Thursday afternoon, I felt the weight of God more forcibly than I had in any
other place. Other distractions were finally gone.
Maybe that’s why we believers are baptized barefoot—whether as children
or adults. We reduce ourselves to the very elemental to show our dependence
and devotion to God, and he, in turn, cleanses us. If we showed up at a font
in Versace, would we really be bowing down to the Lord, or just to fashionsense? I just can’t imagine Stilettos as proper receptacles for inspiration or
steel-toed work boots as overt signs of devotion. Then again, maybe wet
socks aren’t any better.
Earlier in the day, before my group happened upon Milton Abbey, we had
hiked along the ridge of a hill that looked down into a valley of dairies and
wheat fields. I watched an old man wearing Wellies and carrying a scythe
walk to the edge of his field. A few yards away, lambs ran to suckle from their
mothers. Wheat, so green it was almost blue, swayed gently in the wind. I
stopped to absorb the scene and noticed a wooden sign on the side of the road.
It had a verse from Psalms 104 carved into it. “Oh Lord, how manifold are
thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.”
That picture played through my mind as I continued to stare at the high
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altar. The glorious chill in my feet, my close one-on-one contact with God,
made me question why the altar was so far away from everything. Why
would the priest perform his rituals so separated from his congregation? It all
seemed sterile. Something, somewhere was missing. I gave up looking at the
altar, walked to the back of the church, and looked up at the ceiling. High
among the beams, a sparrow flew from one window to another. It didn’t act
distressed at having been caught inside among Romanesque arches. Instead,
it seemed to seize the opportunity, and flapped around the ceiling, ­whistling.
The sparrow reminded me of the valley we’d hiked through with its lambs
and wheat squished into the space of the high altar. I saw travelers covered
in mud from the forest or sand from the desert bowing down to their God
and his creation. God didn’t come down to Moses in a painstakingly carved
marble column or a plaster likeness of a priest. He burned inside an eternal
flaming bush, and wafted above the Israelites in a cloud.
I closed my eyes and pictured a forest of birch trees covered in ivy inside
the abbey, their branches reaching to the ceiling, taking the place of flying
buttresses and painted ceiling beams. In my mind, moss cushioned the hard
stone floor, and wildflowers grew from the sides of the pews. Here I could
walk around in wet socks and dirty trousers and still feel that not only the
Lord, but everyone else, was glad I came.
Once again, Hopkins wandered into my mind. “And for all that, nature
is never spent:/ There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” Before
man ever conceived of piling stones on top of each other, and coloring little
pieces of glass and saying the combination of the two created a proper atmosphere for worshipping God, God had already given man a place to reverence
Him—the world he created. Strange, I needed a church to teach me that.
I turned and left the Abbey, bent down to put my boots back on, and
looked back at the forest I’d emerged from ten minutes earlier. It looked
strangely familiar—like the church interior I’d just constructed in my mind.
I stopped and sat down on a stone ledge, and watched the trees. God was
there, waiting.
S   S   S

Moses stood by a flaming shrub, and didn’t question its validity. He listened
and answered—voiced his concerns and did as he was told. The Lord didn’t
wait until Moses was already knelt in prayer, or had come to the temple to
offer sacrifice. He came to Moses in the middle of the day, in all its heat and
dust and humanity. He came when Moses needed him most.
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Larson  S  Milton Abbey
S   S   S

I bent my head forward in a motion to get up, and realized the thoughts in
my head were addressed to God. I was praying. I thanked Him for the view;
I thanked Him for allowing me to be there to see his creation, for touching
me somehow, for the call of the bird I heard, for simply listening.
Halfway through my prayer I heard something rustling nearby. I opened
my eyes to see a raven land on the stone step next to me. The last line of
“God’s Grandeur” rushed into my mind—“Because the Holy Ghost over the
bent/ World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” I froze.
I turned my head slightly to examine my companion. The raven ignored me,
and I admired the tuft of feathers that covered the crest of its beak, the tiny
white stripes at the top of its wing, and the way its black feathers shone blue
in the sunlight. When it finally flew away, I wanted to sprout wings and follow it to the Promised Land, leaving my shoes on the ground below.

99

Dixie Partridge

Staying On
It isn’t pride in the land,
exactly. Fences sag,
bull thistles cluster in corners
and near sheds. In the wind
he hears their thistly voices—
cracking and plotting . . .
Five sons on their own,
and he’s unable to walk fields
he refuses to sell.
It’s not so much the romance
of man and the land—farming with horses
long past the new age of machines—
but the knowledge that leaving
becomes more impossible
than making a living here:
short growing seasons, the winter edge
of starvation in cattle,
deer raiding his stacks.
Too tired to watch
as the thistles move in, sneaking
through fences and hiding under hayricks,
he rocks in his platform chair,
details from the drought thirty years back
ready on his tongue:
“I’ve worried about the weather
all my life…”

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Partridge  S  Two poems

And it’s not so much that leaving
would sever his life from the soil,
but that it would mean a freedom
so outright . . . The possibility
hangs like a sentence: exile
unthinkable for a man nearing death
a man who has never left home.

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Certain Winter Hours
(2004, year of war)
Thought itself needs words. It runs on them

like a long wire.”

—Ugo Betti
Newspapers still rolled and rubber-banded
inside the front door . . .
To walk out daily is the news.
After winds and the drifting—an equality
of gray over this north plateau—
the lake has turned smooth.
Realities are layered here,
cold and quiet, and even as the stilled
distance is welcome, there’s fear
beneath the steady watch
of a breath,
like the impending instant
when something breaks the skin of water
and the shudder trails out like a muted cry.
From this steepness,
the shadow side of living presses in
until even what is craved
is a burden,
senses not tranquil enough
to gain strength. In such feebleness,
things absent, like grasses and birdsong,
seem astonishing.
No thaw of words can cover
what it means to be alive, the scroll
of what comes next.
102

Steven Peck

A Spider Teaches the Fall without a Recommend
The synecdochic spider could
not in good conscience
be crushed as it
scampered on holy ground.
Not here.
(Hadn’t I just marveled
at creation and creator
on color video)
But, then allowing impious arachnids
where all is properly ordered and groomed, to roam at
will—unwhitened
and scornful . . .
Dilemma—
Like Adam replenish the earth

do not partake

kill spider in temple

allow spider to roam unfettered
I
was stuck and
no Eve could help in
this dressing room
as I pondered eight polluted legs
that God had fashioned & framed
dancing mockingly across
a spotless carpet.
“Just step on it!” Hawks,
peering over his stall, complained
as I on hands and knees
stared in indecision.

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Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 2 (2005)

A tertium quid appeared in tissue.
Wrapped up like Christmas divinity
I pocketed it until
in the cold D.C. air
I shook it free.
A siren distant and cool
sounding
from the crowded beltway
reminded me
Adam was not so lucky.

104

Readers Write:
Spiritual Autobiography
We want to inspire you.
“Readers Write” includes essays on a preannounced topic that
our readers can address in a short form. If, as Mary Lythgoe
Bradford suggests (in citing Eugene England), the personal essay for Mor­
mons is a variation on the testimony as literary genrey, then we hope you
will find inspiration here akin to what can be found in the best of testimony
meetings: personal edification, a sense of community and the fortitude to
share your own story. Submissions may address the topic from any perspective, but should be thoughtful and honest.
Topic for next issue: Film and Religion

Like other cultural forms, film tells us who we are and how to be. One early
Brigham Young Academy president encouraged students to go to the cinema
to learn American mating mores, including how to kiss. Today, there are
more films being produced than ever before, including movies that celebrate,
explore, challenge and some would say reify Mormon culture and the LDS
faith. How have the movies shaped your spirituality and your religion and
how you view yourself as a part of the human family?
Submissions should not exceed 800 words and should be sent to submissions@irreantum.org.
S   S   S

The contributions included here address the topic of Spiritual Autobiography.

San Manuel
Years after my mission to Argentina, troubled by the distance between
appearance and substance in our everyday LDS practice and interpretation
of spirituality, I found my prideful resistance to the institutional Church
beginning to assert itself. But what started there would become, one day, a
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Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 2 (2005)

questioning of the whole structure of my faith, of waking up to that disturbing revelation of no longer knowing.

I am reminded of the story “Saint Manuel the Good,” a melancholy
tale of a fictional parish priest, San Manuel, martyr of Spanish Catholicism
who cannot soothe his tortured unbelief. He is the spiritual invention of
Miguel de Unamuno, philosopher, novelist, essayist, dramatist, and poet of
Basque, Spain.

The story is related by Angela Carballino, a woman from San Manuel’s
parish in Valverde de Lucerna (Green Valley of Heavenly Light). Manuel,
whom she considers to have been the very father of her soul, is secretly a
wretched, unbelieving priest who nevertheless sacrifices himself to the feeding of his flock; feeding his sheep with a faith that to him is purest illusion,
but that for them, “having been born only to die,” is sweet consolation.
Through “the most sweet authority” of his presence, words, and voice (Angela
writes) Manuel is, like Jesus, a healer of many who are sick or who believe
themselves otherwise afflicted.

A turning point in her narrative comes when Angela’s brother Lazarus
returns home with a small fortune made in America. Lazarus, initially striving to persuade his mother and twenty-four-year-old sister away from the
wiles of a corrupt Church and the feudal countryside, ends up befriended—
and apparently converted—by this remarkable priest. But afterward Lazarus
reveals to Angela the truth of his unlikely “resurrection.” On their long walks
along the shore of Valverde de Lucerna’s lake, Manuel counseled Lazarus to
come back from his apostasy, for the good of the community, even if he did
not truly believe. Not to “feign,” Manuel explained, but something more like
dipping your fingers in holy water, to end up believing.

In the end, the tearful Manuel must reveal to this unlikely proselyte
the depths of his (the priest’s) own unbelief—what for all these years he has
hidden from his simple parishioners and now only tells Lazarus, already a
nonbeliever—lest it torment Manuel so much that he end up shouting his
disillusionment in front of his congregation. He is there, after all (as is the
Church), to bring the people life, not death. Truth itself might be something
too terrible, too intolerable, too deadly for them to bear. Any religion, for that
matter, is true if it brings people toward a spiritual life, a life of peace and
consolation. Manuel’s religion is simply to comfort himself by comforting
others, to console with a consolation that is not his own.

I wish my own consolation were as clear-cut (not to say “simple,” or
“easy”) as Manuel’s. My family—at least my wife and my mother—need me
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Readers Write

to be resurrected to that former faith, even if that merely consists of a feigned
belief. Perhaps I could more easily submit to that if I were not doubly condemned by a compulsion to write. After all, to write (in my mind) means
to tell the truth, and the truth about me is something too terrible, perhaps
intolerable, perhaps deadly, to the faithful who might come in contact with
it. To write, if the writing be of much substance, is to exorcise and to wrestle
and to reveal. Along with literature and art, in general, it breathes life back
into me, gives me infinitely more consolation than a millennium of Sundays
and sacraments.
By now, as my literary labor begins to yield a modest return, I have given up most
of my illusions about writing the Great American (or the Great Mormon) Novel.
At the same time it seems I can hardly stop fighting to maintain those illusions, raging against the dying of their light, lest otherwise I effectively die instead, at once
miserable and useless, even to those around me whom I most love and for whom I
might otherwise more fully sacrifice myself.
I worry that I might live long enough to finish my thankless duties at the cost
of postponing those that nourish my own soul and keep me, at least in moments,
joyfully living. I worry about dying outright or hanging on like my grandmother
with her lack of memory and that sad, bewildered existence.
That has been my midlife crisis, anyway, which has led me to private madnesses
that have remained unacted upon. Now as I inch back toward an ancient faith,
I am almost persuaded—by odd coincidence which some might call a miracle, by
books and holy men sent to me by a devoted, agnostic Catholic—that I cannot comfortably dispense with religious community. So once more I approach the ancient
imperatives of prayer, of fasting, of an unselfish and practical religious labor on
behalf of those who do not share my doubts and cynicism. As I ponder such duties
and labors, I never once consider that I can cease to write. In my newborn religious
activity, I hope the faithful will not discover, to their possible disillusionment, the
paradoxical truths I tell by writing.
Manuel does die, in the end. Lazarus, in time, follows. Angela, for her part, in
the present tense of her narrative, in that confusion between sleeping and waking,
hardly knows any more what is true or false, what is seen or dreamed. But she
consoles herself by imagining that, for whatever mysterious purpose, God has only
made Manuel and Lazarus believe themselves nonbelievers, “that maybe in the
completion of their journey the veil fell away from them.”

Will it be so for me? Will it be only in dying that the crust falls from my
eyes and I finally see?
Brett Alan Sanders
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Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 2 (2005)

The Diesel Man
In 1954, I could never have imagined how one decision would lead to a
chain of others and redirect my life during the next half-century. Today I
can hardly believe I was the timid, drifting nineteen-year-old boy with a
Ford convertible and low grades. I feel pity for him. This boy does not share
many of my values. He baffles me. But I know we share the same body and
brain because his broken nose and scars persist, as do traces of his memories.
S   S   S

I drive Brent to the Delta Ballroom in Pocatello, where we roamed together
on Saturday nights our last year in high school. We park among the cars
of our friends: Al, Laverelle, Bert, Sam. Brent is a celebrity after eighteen
months in Seattle. Sam smiles and motions Brent into his car; he draws
deeply on a Pall Mall and hands Brent a Schlitz. “Thanks,” Brent says, “but
I quit drinking.”
“Got ulcers already?” Sam says, concerned.
Brent says no, and his voice tightens as he says it’s a religious thing.
Sam has heard this before, at home, at church, all of his life; his father is a
Mormon patriarch. Sam was reared a Mormon, attended church until his
late teens, took seminary classes in high school. He must feel dismayed, even
betrayed by Brent. I do. We all believe in God and our religion but have
left both, at least for now. How does one deal with an old friend who has
returned to religion and feels compelled to bring you back too?
Inside the dance hall, I see Brent talking to Al, who later asks me, “What
happened to him? He used to buy the beer for us.” Brent was more than six
feet tall in high school and would wear his brother’s T-shirt with an anchor
and “U.S. Navy” on the front. He’d bring a case of beer to the cashier, and
if the cashier balked, one of us would say indignantly, “You mean a guy
fighting for his country can’t buy beer?” Appealing to patriotism worked. At
eighteen, and in his brother’s shirt, Brent seldom got turned down.
The night wears on. All of us talk to Brent and react to one another in
private. As the Tennessee Waltz dances us to an end, we do not see our future
with Brent.
Outside, shiny cars, some with many coats of lacquer and modified
motors bring life to the parking lot as they start up with growls, grunts, and
roars. Lee Wooley has the fastest car, a straight eight Buick he took to the Salt
Flats and that was featured in an Hot Rod article with a photo of himself and
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Readers Write

his car. He’s a fanatic; some say when he changes oil, he leaves the drain plug
out for days to get rid of the last drop of used oil. Lee has yet to be converted
to V-8 engines.
Cars head for the exit. The first screams out south toward downtown,
tires smoking, and the next screams north, so that, just in case the police are
around, both will not get nabbed. In a few minutes a police car arrives, and
cars calm down. I put up the top on my convertible, idle to the exit, and
turn north for our 25-mile trip home. Brent and I don’t talk much as we roar
through the Fort Hall Reservation, across the Blackfoot River, and stop at his
parents’ home on the south edge of Blackfoot. Brent opens the door to leave,
pauses, says, “Pick me up for church in the morning.”
At seven forty-five in the morning, I’m tired and at Brent’s. We drive to
the Fifth Ward chapel and enter the back door into the basketball court,
where our ward holds priesthood meeting. Bishop Clarence Cox, about sixty,
wears wide suspenders to keep his slacks centered on his semicircle stomach.
Brent enters first. The bishop has to look up to see Brent’s eyes. He shakes
Brent’s hand and fusses over him. I’m next. Bishop Cox grabs my hand, looks
into my face, and says, “I want you on a mission in March, as soon as you
turn twenty.” His eyes pierce mine and he does not smile.
Feeling pressured and ill-at-ease, I smile to lighten the moment, and wax
poetic, “Your nose knows I’m in no condition for a mission.”
“Get in condition,” he replies.
But the idea of a mission kindles conflict in me. It means public speaking,
which terrorizes me, and yet I want to learn to speak in public. I want to
overcome this fear, which has haunted me all my life and even kept me from
finishing a class required for a college degree.
For the rest of the holidays, Brent and I consider our options: join the
military together or serve missions now and attend college together in the
future. Before Brent leaves, he has decided to forego the GI Bill, which
expires in weeks. If we serve missions now we lose out on its education benefits. Before leaving for Seattle, he has decided to serve a mission as soon as
he reaches 20, and he encourages me to do the same; maybe we can even go
to the same mission.
In a few days, Brent flies back to Seattle, leaving me without a peer to
encourage me toward a mission, and a week later, the army recruiter visits
my home to convince me to join the service now and to serve a mission later.
Minutes after he leaves an unexpected visitor arrives, shows me a coupon I’d
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sent to enquire about diesel training. I tell him I have two weeks to decide
on the army or a mission. This stranger amazes me with, “That’s easy.” He
closes his brief case and for the next hour fascinates Mother, Dad and me
with stories; his father had served five missions and was his first missionary
companion.
The diesel man finishes and reaches for his briefcase. Dad walks him to
the porch door, locks it behind him, locks the kitchen door, and comes back
with the alarm clock, winding it. Time for bed. Dad says, “That was some
guy.”
The next day, I’m at work on my temporary job on the railroad section
gang. While sweeping newly fallen snow from a railroad crossing at the north
end of Blackfoot, we watch a new Buick slow down and move to the other
side of the street to pass. Inside the car is the diesel man. I wave and he waves
back, and I wonder if he recognizes me. And it is then that I make my decision.
In the evening at home, I watch at the window for the bishop to return
home from Cox Motors, the dealership for Dodge, DeSoto, and Plymouth.
Bishop Cox has lived across the street from my parents since I was six. He
turns into his driveway, and I walk to his alcove porch and ring the doorbell.
We sit in his front room on the couch, and I relate to him the visit of the
diesel man and end by saying I’ve decided to put my life in order and serve
a mission.
Bishop Cox puts his arm on my shoulder and doesn’t say anything. We sit
in silence as the room dims in the last rays of the winter sun, and I begin to
focus on my mission, my thoughts slowly wandering to the future. A serene
concern eases over me as I consider my commitment and my farewell and
the talk I cannot evade.
At my farewell, I stand up, look down into the faces of my friends and
neighbors and then fix on the pulpit, not making eye contact with the audience again for the few minutes I say things I cannot now recall.
S   S   S

The mission experience not only helped me overcome my fear of public
speaking; it changed my concept of myself, of education, of God, and of
my church. Leaving Canada where I served, I wondered, just as Brent must
have, how to be with old friends, and at the same time, maintain my values.
I had glimpsed lives of promise, wanted such a life, and college was a prerequisite. My criteria for a wife changed too; besides marriage in the temple,
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Readers Write

my church leaders said education was important for women too, and I came
to believe them. I married an accomplished public speaker, who debated in
high school and had to drop out of college when her father died. She became
a legal secretary, remained determined to get her degree, and eventually
completed it.
Public speaking, college, and marrying right became the initial steps on
my un-planned journey to graduate school and on to becoming an officer in
the Foreign Service, where my calling as a counselor to three mission presidents required me at times to speak almost weekly, in Spanish, to congregations in Ecuador and Paraguay.
I suppose the diesel man failed as a recruiter. But he helped this Idaho
boy decide to serve a mission, which opened the gates to college, to graduate
school in the East, to a career in Latin America, and to a life exceeding my
expectations.
Henry Miles

111

From the Archives
“The Next Thing I Knew I Was
One of Them”:
Oral Conversion Stories from
BYU’s Charles Redd Center for
Western Studies
Following one’s call to a spiritual life is an intensely personal
experience. Though Mormons often share their spiritual experiences and insights in monthly testimony meetings, as well
as in church classes, the stories of spiritual conversion are not often told in
public settings. Some find occasion to write books, but more often than not,
conversion stories remain in the hearts of those who experienced the turn to
a new path in the LDS Church. While these stories deserve respect for their
personal nature, the power of such narratives also deserves to be acknowledged. These stories may remain private because they are sacred to those who
have them to tell, but also because there is no real forum in which to share
them. Many people long to share their stories of conversion with a sympathetic audience, with those who can appreciate the significance of the experience and choices leading to baptism in a church that is often shunned for its
unique doctrine and the practices of its members. Fortunately, the Charles
Redd Center for Western Studies, housed at Brigham Young University, has
pursued a project of oral history collecting that provides a forum for these
personal accounts.
Begun in the late 1980s with Alan Cherry interviewing African-American
members of the Church, the goal of the Center’s ongoing project has been
to collect oral histories from Mormons belonging to various ethnic groups in
the United States. The project to date has collected hundreds of oral histories
from members of Afro-American, Native American, Latino, and Asian origin. Though the project has not been devoted exclusively to the collection of
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conversion stories, such conversion narratives always emerge for each subject
interviewed. This is sometimes due to the framing of the interview through
questions which often focus on the subject’s childhood and early religious
experiences; sometimes the interviewer explicitly requests the conversion
story. Remarkably, in either case, these stories always have their own cohesive
narrative structure. The conversion stories do not emerge in bits and pieces
throughout the interview. Rather, as the topic of conversion to Mormonism
emerges in these interviews, the subject narrates the account as a structured
whole, requiring little, if any, prompting from the interviewer.
This pattern suggests that the conversion narrative itself serves as an
important reference point in the teller’s identity as a Mormon. Though
these narratives have been used as sources to identify broad patterns among
church members in various ethnic groups, the cohesive narrative structures
themselves help to preserve individual voices. As Jessie Embree, director of
the Center, explains:
Oral history interviews provide important data for research, but they do more
than that. They preserve the “personal voices” of singular Church members,
allowing those members to talk openly about their experiences and feelings
as Latter-day Saints. The excerpts from the Redd Center interviews . . . are
the raw, unedited research data [and] . . . provide a flavor of the individuals
interviewed, their faith, and their very real concerns about how they can best
fit into the Church’s patchwork quilt. These histories are personal. (102)

Such personal stories, though oral, constitute an important genre of Mor­
mon literature.
The excerpts from interviews included here represent a small fraction of the
material available in the BYU Special Collections library. Taken as narratives
within a single ethnic group or individually, the stories are rich. These pieces
are meant to give a flavor of the conversion stories available and illustrate
how memorable is the journey to discovering spiritual truth.
Work Cited
Embry, Jessie L. “Speaking for Themselves: LDS Ethnic Groups Oral History
Project.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 99–110.

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Charles Redd Center for Western Studies
Brigham Young University
LDS Asian American Oral History Project
Thusanee Nuntapreda
interviewed by David H. Tanner on March 2, 1995
T: Tell

me about your conversion to the Church.

Missionaries came to my husband’s office, and he invited them to our
family. At that time we had only one kid. He was about a year old. When
the missionaries came to our home to give him the lesson, I didn’t pay any
attention at that time because I didn’t care about any Christian church. I
didn’t believe it. When I was a little kid, there was a Christian church right
by where I lived. My mom always told me, “You can go there just for fun but
never have anything to do to be involved in their church because their God
is different from ours.” That’s all I learned when I was young.
When the missionaries came, I never listened. I just excused myself that I
had to put my little boy to bed. After my husband learned all the lessons, he
decided that he wanted to join the Church. He told me that he wanted to
join the Church and another thing he told me was that he had to pay tithing.
I told him no. I said, “Why should we pay tithing? They don’t do anything
for us, and this is our money. We don’t know anything about the Church.”
But he said he wanted to join the Church and it was his money so he would
pay it. At that time I didn’t work, so I couldn’t say anything.
Then he joined the Church. I went to the church with him and talked
with several missionaries. When he first joined the Church, so many things
changed. In Thailand even though men are married and have families, they
still go out and fool around with other women. They are drinking and
smoking. I saw the change in him. Several missionaries talked to me that I
should join the Church. As a family it would be better. I decided to join the
Church at that time, but I didn’t have any faith about the Church. I joined
the Church just to keep him in the Church.
I always heard the missionaries say that if I wanted something I should just
pray with all my heart and really ask. Three months later I want to get a job.
I took a test at a university as a clerk and typist. At the time I had taken the
typing class for only three months. I had never worked before. I took only
Thai language and not English. But I had to take a test that had English and
N:

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Thai. I practiced English typing by myself about fifteen days before I took the
test. I went and took the test. They had over a hundred people that applied
for the job, but they wanted only fourteen people. The results came out, and
nobody passed the test.
A week after one of the department called me. They wanted me to come
to their department about the job. At that time I was so happy. I thought,
“Oh, this is the answer” because I did pray. When I went over, they said that
they wanted me to take the test again. While I was there, there were six
other people there. There were seven including me. I talked to all those six
other people. They all had a couple of years experience of working and typing. I was the only one that had never done any work before. I kind of felt
frustrated while I was waiting for my turn to take the test. I thought, “Oh,
I know I will never get the job.” I prayed while I was waiting. I prayed so
hard. When I finished the test, they didn’t say anything. Two days after that
they called me that I got the job. At that time I knew that it was a blessing.
I knew that I didn’t do it myself.
The people who was hiring talked to me. They said, “Thusanee, do you
want to know what is your test score?” I said, “Yes. Show me.” They said,
“Here. Look at it.” I looked at it. I just couldn’t believe my eyes. My score was
the lowest. I asked, “Why did you hire me when mine is the lowest?” The
answer was, “We don’t know why. When we look at the picture, we just have
some kind of feeling. We just wanted you.” At that time when they told me,
I knew that there was something. That was the first time when I had my own
testimony about the Church. That was when I started to believe about the
Church. I knew that I didn’t do it myself.

LDS Hispanic American Oral History Project
Arlene Fuentes
interviewed by Andrea Van Wagenen on February 23,
1992
V:

Arlene, tell me about your early childhood.

I grew up in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. Mainly my childhood was around
school. I went to a Catholic school called Colegio Vedruna. It was an all

F:

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girls’ school. It was fun. I went to school there from kindergarten up to
the tenth grade with the same classmates all that time. I had my real close
friends at school. We used to get together to play at each other’s houses over
the weekend.
I have two younger sisters. With my mom and dad, we were all very close.
We used to do everything together. My dad used to work for Eastern Airlines,
so every summer we would travel someplace like Disney World, Disneyland,
Hawaii, and other places in the United States. Our plans for as long as I can
remember were to move to the U.S. someday.
Those years in Vedruna had a great influence in my life. They really helped
to shape and mold my personality, my views, and my values.
It was a very nice childhood. I was very protected and didn’t have any big
problems. I also had many aunts and uncles, especially on my mother’s side,
who made me feel loved and secure.
V: Tell

me more about religious activities.

F: Like I said before, the school that I went to was Catholic and run by nuns.
They did motivate us to go to mass every Sunday. My parents were Catholic,
but they were not very active. Maybe my dad would take us to church so that
we could tell the sisters that we had gone to church. Most of my moral values
I acquired at school. I had a very clear idea of what was wrong and right. As
I got older, we started searching for truth outside the Catholic Church.
[…]
V:

Why did you decide to move to Texas?

F: One reason was that the nuns decided to close Vedruna. We started looking for another school. Public schooling is not very good in Puerto Rico.
That wasn’t an option. The other private schools were very hard to get into.
Vedruna was a really good school. The education there was excellent. At that
time my dad had an offer for a transfer to the States with Eastern. It was the
right time. The position appeared, and they gave it to him. So we just moved.
It was the right thing.
The place that we moved to was actually called Humble, Texas right outside of Houston. They had a very good school system. It was hard at first. At
Vedruna there were thirty girls in my class. Then I moved to a school where
there were five hundred students. It was a different culture.
V:

Were there a lot of Americans?
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Yes, they were mostly Americans, Texans.
The ones that got to know me were nice. They laughed about my accent.
They thought it was cute. Not too many people go too close to me. I was very
shy, and it was hard making new friends. Everybody was so different.
A year after we moved there I met two friends that were a little bit more
like I was. At that time I didn’t know why. I just knew that they didn’t go
to parties like the other kids did. They didn’t drink or anything like that. I
started trying to find out why they were like they were I heard them talking
about church activities and youth activities. Finally I found out that they
were Mormons. I thought, “This is really interesting.”
I had never heard of the Mormon Church before, apart from the Osmond
family. I thought that it was really interesting that they believed in the same
things I did. My parents had always taught me not to smoke and to be very
careful with boys. I had a very protected kind of life. I felt very comfortable
with my two Mormon friends. Their names were Viki Parrish and Dawn
Johnson.
They saw this, and they started inviting me to church. I didn’t stop going
from then. It was about three weeks after the missionaries started teaching
me that I got baptized. It was May 4, 1979.
F:

V:

Why did you decide to get baptized?

From the beginning I believed everything that the missionaries taught me.
I thought it really made sense. I could feel strongly through the spirit that it
was the right thing. I was a little bit scared. My parents didn’t mind my going
to church. They were not active in any church at that point. But they thought
it might be a rush decision because it had only been three weeks since I had
been learning about the Church. They didn’t want me to get baptized just yet.
They wanted me to go to church without making any commitments. But I
felt that I should. I was sure of what I was doing.
I remember I kept going to different activities. It was a hard time. I had
pressure at home. When I was at the church activities, I felt really good. I
was really confused. I remember during those three weeks I kept getting all
of these headaches. I had headaches all of the time. I slept badly. I felt really
restless. I just didn’t know what to do.
I was at this Young Women and Young Men activity, and my sister Elaine
had come with me. She hadn’t been taking the discussions, but she went with
me. She was feeling really good, too, and it was such a nice experience. All
F:

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of a sudden I had this feeling of, “Why not get baptized? There is just no
reason why I shouldn’t.” Once I decided that, I felt so peaceful. Everything
went away, the confusion, the headaches, everything. I felt so good. I told the
sister missionaries, “I want to get baptized.” I told my parents. They were a
little bit worried about it, but they supported me in my decision. They were
there when I was baptized. My whole family was there. It didn’t take them
very long to realize that it was the right thing.

LDS Native American Oral History Project
Helan Wells Grady Taosoga
interviewed by Odessa Neaman on June 14, 1990
N: Were you a member of the Church at the time [during high school in
Omaha, Nebraska]?

No. Before my family moved out of the reservation and went to Omaha,
most of my family was Lutheran. My great grandfather was a minister, and
my family became inactive when they moved to the city. When I was about
twelve, some ministers came to our door. They wanted to start a little church.
It consisted of a mixture of some families around our area. It was the Baptist
church.
My grandmother was always really religious. She still participated in the
Native American religion, but she also needed another religion I think to live
her daily life. She became very, very active and strong in the Baptist church
and when I was fourteen or fifteen, I was also baptized a Baptist.
Grandmother was a great believer in our Heavenly Father and a great
believer in prayer. I remember times when she would start praying the
middle of the night and still be praying when the sun came up.
I remember one day coming home from school and seeing these two men
in suits running after and chasing my little cousin. I ran to protect him. I
stopped them, and I said, “What do you want? Who are you? Did he do
anything wrong?” I wouldn’t even let them go into my aunt’s house. I stood
on the porch and literally blocked them. They said they were elders of the
Latter-day Saint church and would I be interested in listening to what they
had to say. I said, “Not me. But why did you chase my cousin?” He said, “He

T:

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told us that if we would give him a ride home he would let his mom talk to
us. He got a free ride home, but when he got out of the car, he shot like a
rabbit across the street. That’s what you saw.”
I told them to wait out on the porch. I went in and talked to my aunt.
She didn’t want anything to do with them. It was on a Tuesday because they
had MIA that night. They explained that to me and said, “Would you like to
come out?” They said, “It’s just a function. It’s not any religious type of thing.
It’s just for the young folks to get together and have games, treats, and fun.” I
asked my grandmother if I could go. I said, “They will pick me up and bring
me home.” She said, “Okay.” But she didn’t want anything to do with them
either.
After we opened the door for them, they continued to come back. For
about a year they would come. Even though my grandmother was part
French, she hated white people. I remember opening the door to some white
elders wanting to come in. She would never accept any of them. They kept
in contact though. I’m glad they did because one day these two brown elders
came. One was a Maori and one was Hawaiian. The Hawaiian looked just
like my brother. When my grandmother saw him, she invited them in. That’s
when the Church came into my life. Because they were brown elders, my
grandmother said it was okay for them to teach us, the little kids, the gospel.
I was a teenager at the time.
I have kind of a sad story to tell you about my baptism. When I was ten
years old, a relative of mine lived next door to us. She wanted us to go with
her. She said she was getting baptized. The elders told us to get a change
of clothes because we were going to go swimming after wards. I ran in and
asked my grandmother if we could go swimming. I asked for my two sisters
and a girl cousin, too. My cousin was eleven, and my oldest sister was twelve.
So we were really quite young. They took us to Council Bluffs, Iowa, and
baptized us without teaching us or even asking if we wanted to be baptized.
What a shame that was!
Wasn’t that very strange? I remember that whole thing. I remember the
laying on of hands. I remember the baptism very clearly. I remember when
we were leaving the stake center something made me turn around. When I
turned around, above the door it had the name, The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints.
Five years had gone by and almost six, and the missionaries came again.
This time I was taught. Three weeks after I was taught, the Lamanite
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­ issionaries asked if my twin sister and I would like to be baptized. I said,
m
“I think we’re members already.” He said, “How?” I told him the whole
story. He apologized to me because all that time I had a negative view of the
Church. Why would they do that? That was very ugly and awful for them to
lie to us and baptize us like that.
When I heard the gospel, I accepted it fully. I remember reading the Book
of Mormon and praying for that promise in John about kneeling down and
asking the Lord if this was right. If it was right, you would have that burning
in your bosom, so I did that. I thought, “I’ll find out for sure if this is right
or wrong. Even though I was baptized in a negative way, the Church can’t’ be
all that bad.” So I read the Book of Mormon. I remember part way through
kneeling in my little room and praying. I had that confirmation in my heart
of the truthfulness of the gospel.
After that I wanted to go to church full time at the LDS church. This
took about a year of fighting with my grandmother before she would let me
go through. She would lock me in my bedroom every Sunday when the lady
missionaries would come and would want to take to me church. She was very
upset about that and very against it.
I remember when the LDS church had a regional conference. The sister
missionaries came and asked me if I would like to go. I was jumping out of
my skin. I was so excited. “Yes, I wanted to go.” They said I would have to
leave Omaha to go to Rapid City though. That meant I had to ask my grandmother. She said, “No,” of course. But I continued to ask her up until that
day of the leaving. She continued to tell me no. Like I said, she would always
lock me in my room. When the time came to leave for the area conference,
I remember packing a bag and sneaking out of the house to go.
I wrote my grandma a two-page letter and told her I loved her very, very
much but I had to do this. I told her I wanted to go to the LDS church. I
knew it was right for me. I told her I never smoked and never drank. I didn’t
do bad things. All I want to do was go to a different church. “I never ever
disobeyed her, but I’m doing it now for the Church.”
I was hesitant to come home after the regional conference. Halfway home,
I called my grandmother and told her that we would be home probably at
seven in the morning. I asked, “Would you please leave the front door open?”
She said yes.
When I got home, she set me down, and she was very quiet. She was
always very quiet. You knew that it was serious. I just waited to see what she
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was going to say. She showed me the letter. She had tears in her eyes. She said,
“I agree with what you told me in the letter. You’ve always been a good girl.
Okay, you can go to your church. The only thing I ask of you, is that when
you go to this church, be the best person you can be in that church. Okay?”
I said, “Okay.” That was it. And I am still active today.

LDS Native American Oral History Project
Gabriel Holyan Cinniginnie
interviewed by Malcolm T. Pappan on April 9, 1990
P:

Describe your conversion to the LDS Church.

C: It’s a long story.
I was a Catholic up until the summer of 1982. I was about twenty-three
years old. I didn’t go to the Catholic church services around my high school
years and after that. Maybe I went only on Christmas, Easter, or Palm
Sunday with family and relatives. I still believed in Jesus Christ, God, and
the Holy Spirit. I just went my way. I still believed in the traditional way, too.
All this was during my high school years before my conversion to the LDS
Church.
This one Navajo buddy moved in from Durango, Colorado. He lived not
too far from us, maybe about fifty yards. When he moved in, we became
buddies because my other school friends lived a mile or two away. Later on
our families moved. H moved up north in Shiprock. So did we afterwards.
We used to see each other after the move, and we were still friends. He was
three years behind me. This was when I was a senior or junior, and he was
a freshman or in eighth grade. This was back in 1976. He supposedly was a
Catholic.
I guess one year he fell for this Navajo LDS Placement girl named Alvia
who came back to Shiprock to go to school during her junior year. She
decided she didn’t want to go on Placement anymore although she did her
senior year. He liked her and took her around and out on dates. She converted him slowly somehow. He didn’t believe in religion that much. He was
the kind that didn’t believe in a God but in a scientific way at first; but the
mind and heart can change down the way as it did to him.
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He got baptized into the LDS Church in Shiprock. He changed. I knew
things were turning good for him, and I could see a lot of things changing.
I noticed the things that he talked about I never understood. He talked like it
was a higher religion. I never could understand the words and certain things
he was saying like revelation, priesthood, Doctrine and Covenants, etc. He
should have told me the basics instead of some of the advanced stuff. I just
got blown away by that. I didn’t care to listen.
It wasn’t until I was working at this one place in Farmington. It wasn’t a
good place to work. I had to work there because I had to pay the pickup payment. Mom and I worked in this one supermarket store. That one store in
Kirtland, New Mexico got broke or something happened. I don’t know what
happened, but a lot of employees got laid off. They ended up laying me off
as well as my mom one spring. Kirtland is off the reservation but nearby. I
knew that if we were to keep the truck, I had to go out and look for a job as
did my mom. I got this job in Farmington and stayed there for about a year.
My younger brother was still in high school and wasn’t working yet. But he
was always busy with homework.
Then my friend was ready to go on a mission in Idaho. He got his mission
call. His name is Tyrone. He is now married to a Navajo girl and they live
in Albuquerque, New Mexico. About that same time in July 1981 a whisper
voice came to my ear when I was working and said, “Get out of that place
where you’re working at because this isn’t the place for you. GO back to
church.” I knew what I heard was the spirit of the Lord, the Holy Ghost
speaking. I didn’t know who I’d go back to church with back then because
everyone else was inactive of my household and my cousins. I surely wasn’t
going to go by myself.
I didn’t know how to get out of that place of work. I was thinking, “What
can I do?” I could resign, but I don’t know if I could in that way or in any
other way quicker except by simply resigning as the whisperings of the voice
said so two or three times during a week to two weeks in that particular
­summer.
My friend was ready to leave on his mission at the same time that whispering came. I gold him, “Before you go, tell me about the LDS church. I want
to hear about it.” At that time I wasn’t even ready for the LDS church. I just
wanted to hear about it. I knew I wouldn’t see him for quite a while because
he’d be on his mission. That whispering was meaning the LDS church was
for me to attend and be part of as I see it now.
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He then came with two missionaries. They were Polynesian missionaries,
New Zealanders, Maoris. Of all the other Anglo missionaries that came by
and knocked on our door, I just somehow turned them down or told that
that we just weren’t interested. Since these two were Maoris, brown-colored,
I decided I’d listen to them. If they had been Anglos, maybe it’d be a different
story. Since they were Maoris, I decided I’d go ahead and trust them because
they were the same color as my skin. I don’t know why I went by that decision of skin color, but I decided to go ahead because the Maoris are brown
colored. I thought, “Okay. Let’s give it a shot.” I didn’t think he’d bring the
missionaries but he did. I thought he’d teach me all by himself before he went
on his mission.
He brought the missionaries in, and they went over the first lesson. They
taught me up to three lessons. By then my friend had left for the MTC, and
I was in the hands of the missionaries by myself. I believed the Joseph Smith
story. I felt real good about the first vision discussion and film strip. I knew
we needed a prophet because other kinds of churches weren’t running the
way they should be run.
About a month later I was job hunting once again. I left the other job in
Farmington. The whispering of the spirit was right. I didn’t expect it to happen but it did. It just happened all of a sudden, and I was just amazed that
it happened when the spirit told me to get out.
I never thought or believed I would become a Latter-day Saint ever in
my life. I made fun of the Church. I made fun of the missionaries; I made
fun of the students at the school that were LDS. I made fun of the seminary
students getting off the bus in junior high. All of a sudden the next thing I
knew I was one of them. That’s pretty amazing.
That’s how it came about. I guess my friends influenced and helped.
I could see it was true, but I didn’t read it. I just wondered, “How could
another book come about, another teaching the Savior come about?” Finally
I got convinced before I was baptized. I felt it had to be. I checked out the
Bible scripture about another book coming forth. My aunt kept telling
me there isn’t another Bible. She confused me, but I still went ahead and
accepted the Book of Mormon.

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LDS Afro-American Oral History Project
Charles Lancaster
interviewed by Alan Cherry on March 10, 1988
I was an assistant pastor at a small church in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the
Bethel AME church. The pastor was Vernal Simms. I worked with him, and
then they moved him. Then they got another pastor. I was assistant pastor
for him. He left. I had just kind of slacked away from the church all together
there for a while. I went to their training sessions because I still wasn’t able
to get into college. I went through the church’s training program because
they had training professors that they called theologians. I took their courses,
and that’s how I pretty much got educated in the way of the church and the
ministry.
We were in New England for a bout six and one-half or seven years. Then
the Church offered me a position in Pennsylvania. Barbara and I talked.
We decided we’d take it. We left New England and went to Brownsville,
Pennsylvania. We moved into the parsonage. We were only there about seven
months. Apparently they didn’t like my style of preaching too well. They
were what they called an old established church, and they did not believe in
the charismatic movement. I was too loud. I did too much moving around.
They just wanted me to stand behind the pulpit, take my text and subject,
give them a well-prepared sermon, and sit down. I didn’t go for that too well.
We left Brownsville after they released me from that church. We came to
Canton, Ohio, and I got a job working in Diebold. I worked for Diebold
about three years. I got laid off after three years. After I was there about a year
and a half, I had always studied my Bible. The job that I had at Diebold is
what they call a chip hauler. I could finish the job in two hours. The foreman
did not want me to come look for him any more. He said, “When you’re
done with your job, go find someplace and sit down.” I’d always go back to
my locker which was back behind the machines, and I’d read my Bible. I
read through my Bible two and a half times sitting back there behind those
machines.
I was reading through the third time, and I got into the New Testament.
When it got to talking about the Holy Ghost, I could actually hear a voice
tell me that that’s what I lacked. I got into a conversation. I said, “Lack what?”
“You lack the Holy Ghost. That’s the reason you’ve never had power enough.
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That’s the reason you couldn’t pastor those churches the way that you should.
You need the power of the Holy Ghost.”
I said, “How do I get the Holy Ghost?” At that particular moment that
same voice that was talking to me said, “Coming down the aisle is a man.
Stop him and talk with him. He’ll tell you what you need to do to receive
the Holy Ghost.” Not thinking I jumped up, went around, and sure enough,
there was a man coming down the aisle. Not thinking I ran up to him and
said, “Hey! Wait a minute. I need some help.” He said, “How can I help
you?” I said, “I was reading my Bible back there, and the Lord told me that
I needed to find out how to get the Holy Ghost.” I thought he laughed at
me. He was laughing because it tickled him because I think he’d witnessed to
every person in that mill, but I never had met him. He was on the way out.
He was going home. He stayed there that day, and he talked to me a long
time.
That began to happen every day. He was on one shift, and I was on another.
He was staying over an hour or two hours talking to me. He turned me over
to another guy that was on my shift. He lived in Akron, but they belonged to
the same church, The Pentecostal. They began to instruct me and teach me.
One night after he got done this fellow from Akron said, “What is hindering
you from being baptized?” I looked at him, and I said, “I’ve been baptized I
don’t know how many times already.” He said, “That doesn’t mean anything.
You’ve got to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” I said, “Lord,
if this is what You’re leading me to do, I guess nothing is hindering me.”
He got off at twelve o’clock. I got off at eleven. I came home here, and
I told Barb, “There’s a guy coming over.” She said, “Tonight?” I said, “Yes.
He’s coming over, and he wants to talk to me about getting baptized.” She
thought I was crazy. Next thing I knew she had got herself dressed. Sure
enough at one o’clock there was a knock on the door. Here he stood. He had
called his wife. She’d driven down from Akron with her friend. Here we had
all these people sitting in our living room at one o’clock in the morning.
He talked to us for awhile. This one woman, I guess, had had cancer.
It was her testimony that moved my wife. At three o’clock in the morning
this man found somebody, and they opened up a church in Canton. They
took us over to baptize us. I remember it was just shortly before five-thirty
in the morning. They got a young elder out of bed, and they baptized us in
the Pentecostal church.
The Lord told me that I lacked the power of the Holy Ghost. They were
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of the belief that once you were baptized you had to receive the Holy Ghost
by the evidence of the speaking of tongues. They sat, and they worked with
us. I guess they called themselves spiritual midwives. They kept telling us to
say, “Jesus, Jesus, holy, holy.” After a while, the elder stopped, patted me on
the legs, and said, “What are you thinking of praising the Lord for?” I said,
“I don’t know.” He took me through some scriptures. H said, “Start saying,
‘Thank you, Jesus’ just thinking on the scriptures that you read.” It wasn’t two
seconds after that. Something happened. I began to speak in tongues. My
wife never did that night. She was so happy to see that I had received it. She
did receive it exactly thirty days later. I received it on my birthday which is
September 15. She received it October 15, thirty days later.
We were in the Pentecostal church for three years. We were faithful to it.
We made very meeting and became members of the choir. They had a radio
choir. They just went all over the place to sing. That was a joy for us. I had
been laid off from Diebolds after three years. We got to travel all the places
with the choir.
I was singing in the choir one day. I was up there just jumping, clapping,
and having a good time just shouting all over the place because I really
enjoyed that. The next thing I knew here came that voice again. It said, “Stop
and listen to what you’re singing. Listen to the words of the song.” I stopped.
I listened. Then I became more or less depressed. After we finished that day,
I never went back up in that choir again. In fact, I stopped going to church.
My wife would still go to the church because she didn’t understand what
had happened to me. I’d go down into the basement of the house. I couldn’t
understand why if I spoke in tongues once and was overcome by the Holy
Spirit, why couldn’t I do it again. Paul talked about eh prayer language that
you pray every day. I couldn’t do it anymore. I became troubled with that.
While she was at church, I’d be down in the basement praying to the Lord.
I was trying to find out why I couldn’t speak in tongues.
This one particular day I’d been down there for about two and a half hours.
I decided “I guess it’s not going to happen for me.” Just about that time it
hit like lightning and I started speaking in tongues. I went on and on. My
wife came in from church. I was coming up the basement steps. She looked
at me all strange. She said, “What’s wrong with you?!” I said, “I don’t know.”
I asked her if I was taller. She said, “Taller? What are you talking about?”
I felt like my head was bumping up on top of the ceiling. It was almost like
I was looking down on top of things. She said, “No. You look the same to
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me!” From that time on I started having great experiences with the Lord but
not in the church services.
One particular night that was a young people’s night, and they had a
young woman that was preaching. When she got done preaching, she asked
if there was anybody that wanted a double portion of the Spirit. Like a shot
I was up and I was down to the altar. I wanted a double portion of the Lord’s
Spirit. There was a little nine-year-old boy that was there. The pastor of the
church and everybody was there at the altar lined up. The Spirit hit me, and
I got to speaking in tongues. It just me like a ton of bricks. I and this little
nine-year-old boy. Everybody else had said their prayers and had gone. I was
still down there, and this little nine-year-old boy was still there. They had
closed the service, and everybody was going home. I was still at it. The little
nine-year-old boy was still at it.
Then they finally did get me up off of my knees. Things started getting
funny. I guess I had gotten an overdose of the Spirit. I actually got drunk in
the Spirit because my friend said, “Brother, better straighten up here because
these folks are going to think you’re drunk.” I laughed. I ran all around the
church. There was this one little woman that they called church mother. My
mother-in-law was with us. She didn’t understand what was going on. She
thought I’d lost my mind. That one church mother said, “You’ve got to stop
because she’s going to think you’re crazy and think we’ve done something to
you. They’re going to think you’re drunk.” When she said drunk, that did it.
I laughed and ran around the church. She was running behind me trying to
catch me. They finally got me in the car. I went home; I was still speaking
in tongues. I got so I sat on the side of the bed. I tried to undress. I was still
speaking in tongues.
Then I began to see visions of African people. I was speaking and singing
in their dialect. I was seeing them in the vision, and I was singing in their
dialect. My wife was laughing at me. I tried to say to her, “Don’t laugh at me,”
but I was still with the beat. I remember falling asleep that night. While I
was asleep, I still saw visions of those African people. The Lord sat two gifts
on me that night. I won’t say exactly what they were. I don’t know what the
purpose of them was, but that’s been several years ago now. Nothing has ever
happened.
I never went back to the Pentecostal church after that. My experiences
were great that I received at home.
I had been out of work, so I found a job driving over the road as a truck
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driver for a company out of Dover, Ohio. I worked with them for several
months. I was driving around the beltway in Washington, D.C. It was about
six o’clock in the evening. There was a terrible storm that night. I was listening to the spirituals on the radio on a Washington station. I heard an unusual
sound or a voice. I turned the radio down and I didn’t hear anything, so I
turned it back up. I went a little further, and I heard it again, a little louder.
I turned it down again. Still I couldn’t make it out. I turned the radio back
up. The next time it was almost like it hollered. I turned the radio off. When
I turned it off, the voice continued. It said, “Don’t let me catch you with
your work undone.” I questioned, “Lord, what does this mean? What do you
mean?” I never really received an answer back from that. I took it to mean it
was time for me to stop fooling around, go on back into the church, and do
what I was supposed to do.
I came back off of that trip, gave the man my two weeks notice, and went
o my father who was a district supervisor or a presiding elder over twentyseven churches. He just happened to have an opening in one church. He
wanted me to go up, hold it temporarily, and take it into the conference
for him that October. This was March which meant that I had to keep the
church open up until the annual conference. I did that. At the annual conference they appointed me pastor of Allen Chapel in Ravenna, Ohio.
I pastured that little church for over two years. I was there preaching and
teaching the things that I’d learned really in the Pentecostal church. Even
though I had a strong AME church background, my beliefs were more
towards the Pentecostal than any other religion that I had any affiliations with.
After two and a half years, they appointed me to another church, a larger
church, was in Alliance, Ohio. The requirements at that church were I could
not work any job. I had to be a full-time pastor. They had a beautiful parsonage there. It was a brand new parsonage. They paid a decent salary plus they
paid the hospitalization for the pastor so that everything was lined up very
well. That sounded pretty good. It looked like it was going to pay us off in
blue chips. It looked like things were really lining up good for us.
One of the requirements of them sending me to that church was they had
a school in Alliance that was a Methodist college. The requirement for me to
keep the church that I had was that I had to enroll there as a full-time student
so that I could get my B.A. degree and go on into seminary. All I had was
the training and the schooling that I had gotten from the AME church.
I enrolled as a full-time student at Mount Union College in Alliance. After
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about five months I became very depressed. I couldn’t figure it out except hat
I knew that I wasn’t doing what I felt that I needed to be doing. I was very
unhappy. I didn’t really go along with a lot of the doctrinal teachings of the
AME church even though I was born into that church. I knew that there was
a lot about it that left a lot to be desired.
I had a two-hour break between my classes at school. I used that two
hours this one particular day just for prayer. I sat out in my car, and I prayed
hard. In the meantime my wife was taking care of an elderly woman on the
other side of Alliance. I had no idea that she was praying too because she
knew I was unhappy. She was unhappy. We knew that something had to
break. I was searching for what I felt to be God’s truth. I had to have the
real truth, and I had to know for a certainty that this was God’s truth and
not something that man had concocted. After I’d finished praying those two
hours, I went on back to my class.
I came home, and my wife told me that she had talked to two young girls
while she was out there on her job. I just more or less shrugged it off. I heard
her, but I didn’t hear her. About two days later she mentioned again about
these two girls. I said, “What two girls?” She said, “I told you about hem.
They want to come over and sit down and talk with us.” That particular day I
had had a bad day because I had just come out of a business meeting with an
officer of the church over some frivolous matter. It left me in a very bad and
an angry mood. She said, “They coming over at five-thirty.” I said, “They’re
coming over today?” She said, “Yes. If you don’t want to talk to them, you
can go downstairs, or I’ll go downstairs and you can stay upstairs. Or you can
go to your room.” I didn’t relish the idea of being sent o my room. I decided
I’d sit and listen to whatever these young girls had to say.
When they got there, they introduced themselves. They told us that they
were LDS missionaries. They had badges on their dresses. She said, “We’re
Mormons.” I didn’t know what a Mormon was. I didn’t really care because
I was mad anyway. When they sat down and they began their discussion, I
was waiting for an opportunity to chase the young girls home because I was
mad anyway. I didn’t figure there was anything that they could tell me. They
did the discussion.
When they got done, they showed a filmstrip of the First Vision, as they
called it, about Joseph Smith in the grove. About midway through that filmstrip that same voice that had come to me on other occasions said, ‘That’s
what you were praying to me about the other day.” At that time that perked
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me up. It shocked me so bad it brought tears to my eyes, but I wasn’t going
to let those young girls see that they had shook me up and got me all excited.
At the end of the filmstrip, they had finished their discussion. By that time
I was totally wiped out. I wanted to know about this Joseph Smith. I wanted
to know more about their Church. I had all kinds of questions. They said,
“We have all the answers that you will need.”
When they got done, my anger had turned to a great peace and a joy. I
had never felt that peace at all in my life. When we said “good night” to those
young girls on the porch, it was almost like for the first time I saw trees and
I actually heard birds singing and I felt wind. Those two girls had brought
the power of the Holy Ghost into that house. It had actually calmed me
down and brought peace into my home. It had actually soothed and bathed
my soul. All I wanted to do was to get them back as often as I could to that
house so I could learn more. That was on April 19, 1986.
I had only been six months into my ministry in that church. Here I started
studying with these young missionaries trying to investigate another church.
With the truth that they had brought to me, I knew for a certainty that I had
no business pastoring this church where I was. I couldn’t leave the church. I
couldn’t just walk out and leave it cold because that was my job. That’s what
I did for a living. My father being the supervisor I couldn’t go over and tell
him that I quit. When I did tell him about it, I was called all kinds of fools
for even considering such an idea. He said, “You know you’re going to have
to carry that church to the annual conference which is still six months away.”
That meant that I had to be a pastor of that church for six more months and
still study with the missionaries to try to investigate Mormonism.
That was a long, hard six months. We went through that, and we went
through a lot of trials and tribulations. There were times even my wife and
I got at each other’s throats. It was like the devil had stepped in the midst
and was trying to pull us in a hundred different directions. We did make it
through. I took that church back to the annual conference. I turned in all of
my credentials, my license, and the appointment to the church. I read my
annual report on the floor, and I walked out. That was on October 26, 1986.
The very next day we were baptized into the Mormon church. That’s where
we are at this time.

131

Book Reviews
Compelling Coming-of-Age Novel
A review of Katie Parker’s Just the Way You Are (Spring Creek Book
Company, 2005)
by Robin Parkinson

Katie Parker got her start in Mormon literature writing an AMLList column that covered romance and young adult fiction. Her
column not only took popular fiction seriously but also did a great
job of explaining it to readers who were not necessarily fans. In a way this
novel accomplishes the same thing. It embraces the conventions of young
adult literature but is written with enough skill to be of interest to readers
who are not fans of the genre.
Just the Way You Are follows the adventures of LaNae, a Latter-day Saint
student at the University of Oklahoma, and the ups and downs of social life
centered at the Institue. Midway through the novel, LaNae is in the computer lab when a friend shows her a way to reveal passwords. She tries it out
on accounts belonging to her friends at Institute, and then thinks no more of
it. But LaNae is annoyed at Emmett, one of the boys at Institute, for not asking her on a second date. A few days later she finds herself in the computer
lab again.
Suddenly I have a slightly devious, slightly mean idea. What if I log into
Emmett’s account for a minute and see what he’s got there? I still remember
his password. I don’t remember anyone else’s, but Emmett’s has stuck with
me. I won’t hurt anything. And I won’t look at anything that looks personal.

She doesn’t intend to snoop but stumbles onto a program Emmett uses to
rate the Institute girls he’s dated in various categories: beauty, sense of humor,
homemaking, musical abilities, commitment to the Church, love of dogs.
I picture myself telling the girls back at the dorm about this, and picture them
hanging on to my every word. (“You guys will never believe this, but Emmett
Potter’s got all of our names in a computer program!”)
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When LaNae discovers that Emmett has given her a low rating, she is so
annoyed that she decides to play a prank on him. She elevates the scores of
her friend Jane, who thinks Emmett is strange. LaNae doesn’t stop to consider that Emmett uses the program because he feels unsure of himself and
doesn’t trust his own judgment. As the title suggests, this is a novel about
figuring out who you are and your place is in the world.
LaNae, Emmett, and Jane, all freshmen at the University, are the three
principle characters in Just the Way You Are. The point of view shifts between
LaNae and Jane mostly, with occasional chapters by Emmett, an e-mail interlude with multiple “authors,” and one or two chapters in third person with
no narrator named.
LaNae is the character with whom I most identified. Her given name is
actually Catha—she comes up with LaNae in the first chapter, when she
leaves for college, by rearranging the letters of her middle name. The nagging
voice in the background of all Catha’s waking thoughts is that of her father,
who is verbally and sometimes physically abusive. For example, Emmett
notes in his program that he is comfortable with LaNae but that “comfortable doesn’t get you the princess.” Catha, on reading this, thinks, “No, I am
definitely not a princess. You’re stupid, you can’t do anything right, your brain’s
always in ‘park,’ I hear my father’s voice tell me. He’s right, as always.” She
doesn’t want to be Catha any more because she believes that everyone will
judge and dislike her because of her family situation. In the course of the
novel, she discovers that changing how you feel about yourself is a lot harder
than changing your name.
Jane, by contrast, is confident about being out on her own and is sure
she has the answers, both for herself and others. She spent her teen years
coaxing and cajoling a friend to church and mutual without ever realizing
the friend had a drinking problem. Now she is mad both at her friend, for
not measuring up, and at herself, for not noticing. Jane loans a Tabernacle
Choir CD to a Baptist girl down the hall but is judgmental when the Baptist
girl brings her a Christian rock CD in return. Jane learns that Emmett has
been dating every girl in Institute once and taking them all on the same date.
When he asks out LaNae, Jane decides it would be better for LaNae not to
know. When LaNae learns of the deception, Jane learns the hard way that
her self-assuredness might be a form of arrogance.
One of the funniest parts of the novel occurs when LaNae decides to turn
the tables on Emmett and Jane by breaking into the computer account to
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manipulate Emmett’s dating chart once again. I am about to reveal a crucial
plot twist, so if you like to be surprised, skip to the next paragraph. Emmett,
on seeing that Jane rates so highly, takes her on a second date and clumsily
proposes. Jane is offended, turns him down, and tells him he has no style.
When LaNae she breaks back into Emmett’s account, lowers Jane’s scores,
and inflates her own, Emmett returns to his computer program to think he
has proposed to the wrong girl. He waits for the next Institute dance, which
LaNae attends with another boy. Emmett arrives in style with a small, juniorhigh-age marching band, “two giggling flag girls carrying carefully lettered
signs that said ‘MARRY ME’ and ‘FOREVER MINE,’” and, on a “blue satin pillow
with gold tassels,” a “jeweled crown,” which he places on LaNae’s head. You’ll
have to read the book to find out what happens.
Unlike many coming-of-age novels, Just the Way You Are makes no real
descent into darkness. No protagonist is faced with a terminal illness, loss
of a parent, or serious sin. In Parker’s novel, we know that LaNae’s home
life is not what it should be, but we can also see she has the potential to
overcome it. At the same time she has the ordinary problems that plague us
all. Sometimes ordinary problems have as much potential to lead astray and
wreck a life as the big ones, and it sometimes takes just as much work to
overcome them. I’m a mother and a former high school teacher, and I know
from watching my students and my own children that they agonize over the
little as well as the big problems in the world. This book is a good example to
them of how to work through life problems and come out right on the other
side. You don’t need to change your name, or keep a computer program, or
be right all the time. You do need to be honest and listen to the Spirit.
Most my reading is in young adult fiction, romance, and children’s fiction.
I’m a fast reader and don’t read every word, and I found the shifting point
of view confusing until I figured out what was going on. Yet this is the only
book of LDS fiction that I’ve picked up in years that I stayed up late to finish.
I’m going to pass it on to my daughter, a college student going through some
of the same experiences. I think she will like it too.

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Things No One Else Sees
A review of Amy Maida Wadsworth’s Faraway Child (Covenant
Communications, 2005)
by Katie Parker

Faraway Child is about Jennifer, a young mother dealing with life in general,
which can be very difficult for anyone with small children around. But her
two-year-old daughter Kaye is particularly challenging; she screams and has
fits when she does not get her way. Continually trying to keep her quiet
enough and presentable in public is wearing Jennifer out. At first she assumes
that it’s just the terrible twos, but Kaye’s behavior continues to worsen. At
a friend’s suggestion she has her daughter evaluated and learns that she is
autistic.
This book is neither a romance nor a suspense novel, which is refreshing.
Emotional elements are still prominent in the book as Jennifer attempts
to deal with various relationships in light of how she must deal with Kaye.
Jennifer’s journey from inactivity in the Church and feeling like the world is
caving in on her to a turn to the Lord and feeling a semblance of being able
to handle things is very believable.
Other people she must learn to deal with include her husband, who is
struggling as a student and as the family’s sole breadwinner; her older child,
who seems to be ignored and forgotten far too often; her sister, who has
always been a close friend but is now moving across the country; her motherin-law, who is quick to condemn Jennifer for Kaye’s behavior; and the goodygoody nursery leader at church who refuses to watch Kaye. Although Jennifer
does not feel like they can or should ask for help, her husband quickly asks
the bishop for the help they need so their little family can receive the spiritual
strength that they crave and not fall in on itself. And the help does come.
There are little miracles as Kaye is assigned her own personal Primary teacher
and attends a school for autistic children. While her condition does not
change, Jennifer finds hope in watching her behavior improve bit by bit.
Even though the gist of the story’s ending is obvious from the beginning—
Kaye will still be autistic at the end—the family’s ongoing struggles kept me
interested and turning page after page to see what would happen next and
how Jennifer would handle it. Wadsworth does a magnificent job of showing
the frustrations of life with Kaye, yet also showing her unique personality
and how she is truly a blessing to her family:
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I spotted Kaye standing next to the giant sunflowers that lined the back fence.
They were taller than she was, and Kaye stared at the huge brown center of
one flower. It was almost as big and round as her face, and she looked at it so
closely, the tip of her nose was covered with brown pollen. Tenderly, with a
light enough touch to barely move the flower, Kaye traced the outside of one
of the petals. She touched the prickly stem, stared at her fingers, then got on
her tiptoes to put her face next to the heavy flower. It seemed to dip its head
to kiss her cheek.
“Look how beautiful that is, Jen. She sees things none of the rest of us see.”
Brienne [Jennifer’s sister] sighed, then rose from her seat to start clearing the
table. (41)

I highly recommend this book. Its fluid unpretentious writing, distinct
and interesting characters, and continual upward appeal from mortal to God
should appeal to a wide audience. The story of relationships and the search
for the healing power that only the Lord can send is one that all can relate to.
Well written, well done.

Romantic Suspense with Interesting Premise
A Review of Jennie Hansen’s Code Red (Covenant Communications,
2004)
by Katie Parker

Code Red begins with a fascinating premise, as set forth in the book’s ­preface:
Adults always seemed to get angrier when they discovered a child had overheard their quarrel, and these men were already angry enough. (Nicole)
huddled deeper into the thick brush where she had been picking berries. . . .
She examined more thoroughly what she could see of the man who stood
with his back to her. Though she couldn’t see his face, she could tell he was a
little taller than either of the other two men. He had wide shoulders like her
father, and the way he stood was the posture she knew so well. Dad wasn’t due
back until tonight, but he might have come home early, she thought with a
thrill of excitement. . . .
The soldier facing her said something, and the soldier with his back to her,
the one she was becoming convinced was her father, lunged toward him. That
was when she noticed his hands were tied behind his back. . . . She heard a
small pop and watched the soldier who might be her father crumple to the
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ground. . . .
It couldn’t be Daddy; Daddy wouldn’t let something so terrible happen.
She ached to run for help but was unable to move. . . . She wanted to tell
someone what she had seen, but she suspected no one would believe her.
Mom would yell at her for going into the forest and say she’d made up the
story. She would punish her for disobeying Marcie. Besides, the men were
probably taking the fallen man to the hospital—and he couldn’t be her dad
anyway. Dad wasn’t expected back from the training ground at Yakima until
tonight. (2–4)

The rest of the story takes place years later. Nicole is now a new college
graduate who, when she was eleven years old, witnessed a killing of a man
whom she suspected at the time was her father. Her father’s mysterious disappearance coincided with that event, but her mother and doctors believed
that she was mentally unstable and had made up the whole scene. Now she is
back in the same area (Fort Lewis, Washington) to stay with her sister whose
husband is deployed in Iraq. Her father’s disappearance was never satisfactorily explained, and Nicole is ready to search around Fort Lewis for answers.
Fortunately she also meets a handsome young single LDS guy who helps her
in her quest.
Code Red is pretty standard romantic suspense. There’s a romance developing, and there’s a mystery to be solved, and there’s danger as attacks on
Nicole repeatedly surface out of the blue. Someone out there does not want
her to learn the truth about what happened to her father. The story is clean
and the characters are true to their LDS beliefs. Religion really seems to be
peripheral in this story; while the main characters are all LDS and go to
church and so forth, there aren’t too many moments of spiritual reflection,
and the story could easily translate to the national market. Fans of LDS
romantic suspense will enjoy this one.

138

Book Reviews

Promising Self-Published Millennial Fiction
A review of Greg West’s The Gathering: Signs of the Times (Fyrnewood
Books, 2004)
by Jeffrey Needle

Greg West’s book is titled The Gathering: Signs of the Times—A Novel of
Millennial Fiction. Fans of the Department of Redundancy Department will
smile at that last phrase—aren’t all novels “fiction”?
The setting is the year 2009. The world is in a state of turmoil, with the
U.S. facing major catastrophes and formidable foes overseas. China has
become a real threat to American security; North Korea is making war-like
noises. And, to make things worse, a new computer virus is set to explode on
the world scene, bringing entire economies to their knees.
When Congress convenes secret hearings into the problem, an extraordinary scheme is hatched—since the virus is timed to go off on a certain date,
the world should immediately change to a different way of marking the date.
Now, add to this mix the startling announcement that we have been visited
by extraterrestrials, and that they are now angling to take over the world’s
governments, and you have something of a wild story.
Behind all this are some well-described and developed characters, some
of whom are Latter-day Saints. As they view the terrible events before them,
they recognize the fulfillment of prophecies, and look to the Prophet of the
Church to give them guidance. One of the central characters, a young man
named Jared Walsh, is killed in military action early in the book, but he
maintains a vigil over his family. His father, Ron, is a leader in their ward in
Alaska, and takes a commanding role in guiding the Saints away from danger
and into a safe place.
The author clearly considers the prophecies and teachings of both the
scriptures, and of the Mormon leadership, to be authoritative. And, in truth,
he captures the spirit of the apocalyptic, end-time view very nicely. Despite
what sounds like an absurd premise (extraterrestrials, changing the way we
mark dates), he actually weaves the thing into a compelling and interesting
book.
But . . . the book is self-published. As so often happens with self-published
works, this book suffers from a serious need of editing. Punctuation is so
erratic that the reader is often distracted from the story. An example:
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Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 2 (2005)
“The cards don’t just keep track of purchases,” Ron explained, but they record
where you shop and what you bought, too.” When you go back to reload the
card with cash, it uploads that information to the bank. Banks are reselling
the information as mailing lists and make a profit off our personal information.” (88)

Now, except for the words “Ron explained,” the rest is a single quote. This
type of messy stuff is so extensive that, even as a fairly patient reader, I found
myself distracted and disturbed. Surely this could have been fixed before the
book went to press.
Another example has the President of the Church saying the following:
It is evident, that as our government has not the power to save us; that we
should prepare to defend ourselves. (184)

Again, botched punctuation, making for tedious reading.
I must say that I enjoyed the story. And I would like to know what happens next. The book leaves us with the Saints of Alaska setting out on a trek,
and the world political and economic situation far from settled. There’s also
some funny business going on with the “Visitors,” with some doubting they
even exist.
There are two more volumes in the series. I don’t know if they are put
together better, if the editing is better. But when a book has at least one
error on nearly every page, it seems to me that the effort expended deserves a
better product. West is a good writer, and he has some good ideas. He does,
however, need to get to work on proofreading.

Losing Religion, Finding Voice
A review of Heidi Hart’s Grace Notes: The Waking of a Woman’s Voice
(University of Utah Press, 2005)
by John Dewey Remy

I purchased Grace Notes: The Waking of a Woman’s Voice after hearing author
Heidi Hart speak about her interfaith marriage. Hart was raised a Mormon,
was married in the temple, and converted to Quakerism eleven years later.
Her husband remains committed to Mormonism, teaching gospel doctrine
and taking their two sons to LDS services regularly. As an active Mormon
who is curious about the Society of Friends (and who attends the local liberal
140

Book Reviews

Quaker meeting on occasion), I was interested in hearing the story of her
conversion and hoped to find it in the pages of Grace Notes.
Hart’s conversion to Quakerism is just one thread of many running
through the richly textured tapestry that is Grace Notes. In it we are carefully invited to view the painful but ultimately healing journey that Hart
has taken to find her voice, reclaim her body, and to live a more authentic
spiritual life. She traces the personal history of each of her spiritual and emotional maladies, sometimes tracking its roots back several generations. She
finds healing by coming to terms with the constraining voices of authority,
tradition, religion, and family.
The journey through Grace Notes can be confusing one, as the narrative
does not follow a strict chronology. For example, in the first half of the second chapter, Hart jumps through space and time to reflect upon the nineteenth century sickbed of her distant Quaker ancestor, her own sickroom in
Utah as a young teen, a visit when she was eleven to Zuni Pueblo, graduate
school in Connecticut, and her struggles during a year she spent in Germany
as a child. This patchwork can make Hart’s narrative difficult to follow at
times, but the general movement though the book is one of growing awareness, confrontation and final triumph. She holds the story together through
the use of themes and metaphors.
One central motif is silence. Silence comes in many varieties in Grace
Notes. There is the critical, sulking silence of her father and husband. In her
husband’s case, it leads to the hostile silence between herself and her husband
that pushes them to the brink of divorce. There is the martyr-silence of her
uncomplaining grandmother, the wife of a general authority and whose “job
it was to be a supporter of Great Men and to preserve the mythology that surrounded them” (111). There is the silencing of outspoken women: after learning that the great Catholic mystic, Hildegard von Bingen, did not produce
any of her works until her forties—perhaps because of fear of criticism by
the Church—Hart wonders, “How many creative women, in the history of
this world, had kept silent?” (210). And woven throughout Grace Notes, there
is the worshipful, meditative silence of the Quaker meeting. Hart compares
this to the negative space of the visual artist and talks about how she wants
“not to be silenced but to give [her]self to silence” (31).
Grace Notes explores other themes in this manner and weaves them
together masterfully. She writes about the safe haven and freedom that she,
her mother, and her nineteenth-century ancestor experience behind the
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Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 2 (2005)

closed door of their sickroom. She also looks at the closed doors in her life:
lost opportunities, the suppression of her true self, the imposing door to
her father’s study behind which he hides when he is angry. In the following
passage, Hart combines the threads of silence, her marriage to Kent, her
sickroom, and the negative heritage passed down by her parents:
If it’s true that people find partners who expose the work they must do in order
to grow, I found someone whose silences asked me, though I didn’t know it
at first, to learn to break them. In the apartments and houses where Kent and
I spent the first decade of our marriage, we played out the same pattern my
parents had during my childhood—but with me behind the locked door. In
our first apartment, I chose the bathroom. Like my adolescent sickroom, it
server as both refuge and escape. When Kent sulked because I’d left crumbs on
the counter or forgotten to shop with coupons, his silence filled the rooms like
water. The bathroom was the only one with a lock. I stayed in there to stem
the flood. Before my wedding, my mother’s only wisdom had been “You’ll cry
every day for the first year.” I did. (60)

Hart also struggles with accepting her body. She traces the source of her
ambivalent and sometimes hateful attitude towards her body back to her grandmother, who hides her “disgusting” body under perfumes, and her mother,
whose “body was a diary of shame and fear” and who taught her daughter
to hide her body under a thick mask of makeup. She uses her newfound
voice to reclaim her body: “I could ‘word’ my way back to my body. I could
try to see from inside my own skin, not as I’d viewed it from the outside
since I was ten, as a bleeding burden or as church property or as my husband’s private treasure . . . [then] I came to the poem I knew I had to write.
Revisit the moment of your most passive silence, came a whisper inside of me.
Give the girl you were a voice” (168–69). Hart then launches into a harrowing
account of her pre-marriage hymenotomy, the violent taking of her virginity
by a patronizing physician. By giving voice to this girl, long silent and long
silenced, Hart has given others a voice—she has said the things that others
perhaps have not courage to say.
Much of Hart’s struggle is against the institutions that are at the center
of Mormon religious life. Hart’s journey is essentially a long struggle against
conformity, against the claims which Mormonism, men, and the culturally
mandated role of the “Angel in the House” had on her body and spirit. She

142

Book Reviews

reacts against the expectations placed on her in favor of a more individually
based spirituality. She wonders early on that “there must be a way to have a
rich spiritual life without being fed all the answers and told exactly how to
live.” When she prays to know if it is time for her to leave the LDS Church,
she says that
I knew what the depth of my being needed. It was time to leave . . . I felt peace.
My heart was not bound. I could be free of the institution that had made my
faith a rote performance. I did not have to stay because the church needed me.
The changes I longed to see were so radical that they seemed at least a hundred
years away. I needed to live in the present. I needed to take responsibility for
my spiritual life. (86)

Grace Notes poses important questions to those who find security in a
structured, hierarchical religion like Mormonism. Does the institution sometimes do more harm than good to the spiritual development of some of its
members? Is it possible for someone like Heidi Hart—especially women—to
find a place within the Church without sacrificing authenticity? Or is silence
part of the price that one who disagrees (or doubts) must pay for membership? Is there a valued place for non-conformists in the Church?
In spite of her struggles with Mormonism and the traditions of her family,
I found Hart’s critical treatment of family members and Mormonism evenhanded and even humble. She makes a bitter pill a little easier to swallow.
In her presentation at the Sunstone symposium, she quoted Quaker author
Muriel Bishop: “How can we in truth and lovingly help one another in
this? Because we must remember that truth without love is violence. And
love without truth is sentimentality. We do need both.” Although she was
speaking about her marriage, I believe that she has followed this principle
in her writing as well. She tries to balance truth and love in exploring
difficult truths about her family, such as her husband Kent’s fight with
depression early in their marriage and her mother’s unwitting suppression
of Hart’s voice. This is their story as well. Her husband and her mother are
complex characters—neither villains nor heroes (or a little bit of both), and
they struggle and grow throughout Hart’s narrative. And while Hart is not
afraid to be critical of authoritarian and constraining tendencies of the LDS
Church, she also carefully acknowledges how she values her Mormon friends,
neighbors and even (former) religious leaders. Her reflective and even intro143

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 2 (2005)

spective criticism is a refreshing departure from angrier and more violent
attacks that seem to make up the bulk of other personal memoirs by those
who have left the Church.
There is so much more that Hart weaves into her narrative that I could
discuss: her journey across the country to find her voice; her description of
the shining shards of God’s spirit, shattered and scattered throughout creation for humans to discover; her discussion of female friendship and intimacy. All of this, and much more, is covered in a scant 230 pages, in beautiful
but accessible lyrical language. Because of its rich layering and interweaving
of themes, because of its vulnerable honesty, because of its treatment of issues
of institutional religion versus personal spirituality, Grace Notes is valuable
reading for a wide range of thoughtful readers.

144

Contributors
Phyllis Barber is the author of And the Desert Shall Blossom: A Novel;
Parting the Veil: Stories from a Mormon Imagination; The School
of Love; How I Got Cultured: A Nevada Memoir (winner of the
Associated Writing Program Award for Creative Nonfiction, 1991); and Legs:
The Story of a Giraffe. Raised in southern Nevada, she now resides in Salt
Lake City.
Mark Bennion teaches writing and literature courses at BYU-Idaho. When not

teaching, he and his wife, Kristine, enjoy venturing to remote corners of the
United States and beyond.
served a mission in Melbourne, Australia, and
worked as an editor at the LDS Church’s Ensign magazine. A graduate of
Emerson College and Brigham Young University, he co-founded and edited
Irreantum and the satirical Mormon newspaper The Sugar Beet. He is the coauthor with Jana Riess of Mormonism for Dummies (Wiley, 2005).
Christopher Kimball Bigelow

Laura L. Bush, formerly a faculty member in the Department of English, Ricks

College, is employed by the Center for Learning and Teaching Excellence at
Arizona State University. Her book Faithful Transgressions in the American
West: Six Twentieth-Century Mormon Women’s Autobiographical Acts was
recently published by Utah State University Press.
recently graduated with her master’s in English, emphasis creative
writing, from Brigham Young University. She’ll beginning a PhD program at
University of Southern Mississippi. She hopes to pursue a career of teaching
on the university level in English and Creative Writing.

Deja Earley

holds a master’s degree in Religion from the University of
Virginia. He works for the LDS Church historical department, a job which
has taken him throughout the world to collect oral histories from church
members.

Matthew K. Heiss

145

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 2 (2005)

grew up in St. George, Utah, and attended Dixie College
before moving on to Southern Utah University, where she graduated with a
bachelor’s degree in English. She worked as a desktop publisher before getting her master’s degree at Brigham Young University. She currently teaches
English at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Melanie Hinton

began this poem at BYU, where she received a bachelor’s degree
in English and Theatre Studies. After three theatre internships and a move
to Chicago, it stayed with her. Her work has been published in Dialogue: A
Journal of Mormon Thought. She presented her work at the AML conference
on the dramaturgical definition of Mormonism in contemporary theatre.
Amy Jensen

Kathryn Street Larson is a master’s student at Brigham Young University in
creative writing. She is collaborating with several other graduate students on
a book of travel essays about a study abroad trip in England, and her thesis
is a young adult novel entitled “Greyhound.”

lives in Southern California with his books and his computer
and spends far too much time reading. A self-described Jewish Gentile,
he remains on the outskirts of Zion, despite the elders’ best efforts to get
him wet.

Jeff Needle

is a clinical social worker who currently works as a therapist with
troubled youth and their families. His poems have appeared in several journals including Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and Inscape. He currently lives in Salt Lake City with his partner of eight years, Ralph Martinez.
Brent Pace

is the author of the LDS novel Just the Way You Are and has
reviewed LDS fiction for a number of years. Her work has also appeared in
the New Era and Westview. She lives and writes in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
She maintains a blog at katieparker.blogspot.com and a website at www
.katieparker.net.

Katie Parker

is a 45-year-old mother of five. She taught high school
biology for ten years before retiring seven years ago to stay home with her
children and to quilt. She is married to novelist and Irreantum co-founder
Benson Parkinson.
Robin Parkinson

Dixie Partridge grew up on a Wyoming farm homesteaded in the 1880s by
her great-grandfather, and lives in Washington state near the Columbia
River. Her work has been widely published in national journals and antholo-

146

Contributors

gies. Her published books are Deer in the Haystacks (Ahsahta Press, 1984) and
Watermark (winner Eileen Barnes competition, Saturday Press, N.J., 1991).
is an evolutionary ecologist in the Department of Integrative
Biology at Brigham Young University. His poetry has appeared in Dialogue
and BYU Studies.

Steven L. Peck

is the author of Hugh Nibley: a Consecrated Life (Greg
Kofford Books, 2002). He is completing a PhD in comparative literature at
the University of Utah and is a member of the English Department at Utah
Valley State College.
Boyd Jay Petersen

Brian Pew is a senior at BYU–Idaho where he studies English and hopes to
move on to an MFA Creative Writing program in 2006.
John Dewey Remy is a graduate student in religious studies at California State

University, Long Beach. He lives with his wife Jana and their two children
in Irvine, California.

Irreantum
Call for Submissions
Upcoming issues will focus on “Film and Religion,”
“Poetry,” and “The Mormon Stage.” We seek submissions of critical essays on these topics, as well
as short stories, personal essays, and poetry. We
especially would like to see translations of works
written by, for, or about Mormons in languages
other than English. Send inquiries or electronic
manuscripts (MSWord, WordPerfect, or rtf files) to
submissions@irreantum.org.

147

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Junius and Joseph
Presidential Politics and the Assassination of the First Mormon Prophet
ROBERT S. WICKS AND FRED R. FOISTER
Beginning with a provocative thesis, Wicks and Foister engage in a thorough reexamination of Joseph Smith’s 1844
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No Place to Call Home

The 1807-1857 Writings of Caroline Barnes Crosby,
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EDWARD LEO LYMAN, SUSAN WARD PAYNE, AND
S. GEORGE ELLSWORTH, EDITORS
Despite the impermanence of her situation, perhaps even because of it, Caroline Crosby left a remarkably rich record of
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Norton Jacob’s Record
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visit us at www.signaturebooks.com

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Personal Essays by Mormon New Yorkers
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Autobiographical writing has been the literary genre most
often undertaken by Latter-day Saint writers of all persuasions
precisely because of Mormons’ gospel-based commitment to
public and personal record keeping.
from Laura Bush “The Field of Mormon Life Writing”
I brashly think everyone loves a good, wholesome BYU student,
a girl with bounce to every ounce. Little do I know how offen­
sive I am to her, my enthusiasm, my arrogance, even though
I can’t call it such a thing at the time. Everyone has to love me
and my love of life and God. They have to.
from Phyllis Barber’s memoir “Bicycle Blues”
While I felt completely cynical about the modern church
corporation, I enjoyed imagining that Joseph Smith might
have dabbled in treasure digging, folk magic, and the occult—
in fact, I would have felt disappointed to learn he had not.
from Chris Bigelow’s memoir “One-Eighty”

Plus Boyd Petersen on Hugh Nibley’s letters as autobiography,
Matthew K. Heiss on personal history, and personal essays by Cheryl
Pace, Deja Earley, and Katherine Street Larsen
Poetry by Mark Bennion, Melanie Hinton, Amy Jensen, Brent Pace,
Dixie Partridge, Steven Peck, and Brian Pew
Regular features: Readers Write, From the Archives, Book Reviews

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